New Strategies for Rural Development

Linda Benedict  |  4/5/2005 1:15:03 AM

Deborah Tootle

In today’s changing global economy, traditional agricultural enterprises and industrial recruitment can no longer be depended on to bring jobs to rural Louisiana. Social and economic forces that once encouraged industry to relocate to the rural South now lure manufacturing out of the country. The rural economy is increasingly dependent on retail trade and services. The activities that encouraged rural development 10 or 20 years ago are not effective today.

Recognizing these challenges, the Red River Waterway Commission (RRWC) approached the LSU AgCenter with questions about the potential for economic development opportunities among the properties owned by the Red River Waterway District and bordering the Red River Waterway. The Red River Waterway District was formed by the State of Louisiana in 1965 and consists of all the “territory located with the Parishes of Avoyelles, Rapides, Natchitoches, Red River, Grant, Bossier and Caddo,” according to the Red River Waterway Navigation Project Revised Statutes.

The commission was created to operate and maintain the Red River Waterway, a navigable waterway system extending from the confluence of the Red River with the Atchafalaya and the Mississippi rivers to the state boundary in Shreveport, La. During the process of developing the waterway, the commission acquired the 15,000 acres along the Red River banks within the seven parishes forming the district.

The RRWC’s goal was to develop a comprehensive, diverse and sustainable economic development plan for the waters of the Red River and the acquired tracts of land. The commission wanted the LSU AgCenter to determine the potential for recreational, agricultural and industrial economic activities.

A team of specialists from the LSU AgCenter identified questions to address: What do the land values tell us about the best uses of the land? What are the local land practices? How effective are these land practices? What do the physical characteristics of the sites and their surrounding areas suggest about the best land uses? What are the social, demographic, historical and economic conditions in the parishes?

The team began by defining sustainable development as not sacrificing the needs of the future for the needs of the present. Investigators collected and analyzed state and national data and their own field research, often working in areas accessible only by boat. Two strategies emerged as promising: asset-based development and natural amenities-based development.

(This article appeared in the spring 2004 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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