A group representing local economic development authorities, chambers of commerce and city and parish governments met in Baton Rouge this week (May 16-17) to attend the Louisiana Community Economic Development Seminar.
The program, now in its 17th year, brings professionals and volunteers together to learn about economic development programs and opportunities available to their communities. Thirty people from various areas of the state participated in this year’s seminar.
Some individuals from smaller communities work in economic development along with other responsibilities, while other participants are volunteers, organizers said.
The annual seminar provides education on a broad array of community development topics and helps people establish contacts, said Karen Overstreet, a professor in the LSU AgCenter’s School of Human Ecology and one of the organizers of the event.
"We give people perspective, opportunities and ideas," she said. "It really is grassroots. It’s a true network – people working together."
Steve Robichaux, an executive management and training consultant from Baton Rouge and a presenter at the seminar, said an important aspect of community development is learning how to engage people.
"A crisis has always an opportunity and a threat," Robichaux said. He told the participants the seminar is intended "to give you the tools to help you."
George Turner of Ethel said he was eager to take the information back home.
"I can’t wait to share the information," he said. "It’s critical. A lot of information is being shared. It’s all good."
Turner, who is retired and moved to Ethel from Hawaii, said he realized Ethel was a community that needed resources for future growth.
The president of Ethel Rural Community Housing and Economic Development, a nonprofit organization that focuses on affordable housing, community development and small business development, Turner has been a participant in the LSU AgCenter’s Community Leadership and Economic Development program.
"It got me into the circle of understanding what resources are available for workshops and seminars," he said.
Skip Smart, director for community development in the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, said the seminar is an action plan for community development in Louisiana.
Smart told the seminar participants to think about opportunities for rebuilding Louisiana. Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana offers a "clean sheet" for unprecedented investment opportunity, he said.
Smart said his job is to recruit investors, retain and grow current businesses and work with entrepreneurs to develop Louisiana businesses. He told the participants about state business incentives that include the quality jobs program, workforce training and the Louisiana Enterprise Zone program – along with federal programs like the Gulf Opportunity Zone, Renewable Community tax credits and New Markets tax credits.
"Louisiana has the most aggressive and attractive incentive programs in the United States," Smart said as he encouraged participants to go back to their communities and take advantage of the government programs that are available.
Liz Brooking and her husband recently turned their 520-acre farm into a community development district called Panola Park north of Ferriday.
A volunteer with the Ferriday Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Revitalization Foundation and the U.S. 65 Tourist Commission, Brooking said she hopes Panola Park will attract industry and jobs for local residents. The Brookings are developing the district as individuals with help from the state and the Northeast Louisiana Economic Alliance, she said.
Brooking, who also is a participant in the LSU AgCenter’s Community Leadership and Economic Development program in Ferriday, said she attended the seminar for the chance to meet economic development people.
"Networking is so important in economic development," Brooking said. "There’s so much information, so many opportunities."
The annual seminar began 17 years ago when economic development agencies and companies in the state said programs would be improved if local people had better knowledge of what was available and asked the LSU AgCenter for help, said Dr. Sandy Dooley.
Dooley, a professor in the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness and coordinator of the Community Leadership and Economic Development program, said until that time most programs had been developed for urban people with full-time economic development responsibilities. Rural areas, on the other hand, often depend on volunteers or chamber of commerce and government employees with little or no formal training in economic development.
"This is a basic jump-start program, so they would know who to contact and where to go," Dooley said.
Turnover and personnel changes require continuing the program, which serves from 25 to 60 people each year, Dooley said. The outline for the seminar stays pretty much the same, but the content changes from year to year.
"They have the interests of their communities at heart," Dooley said of the people who attend the seminars.
One of those new people was Michelle Edwards from the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority in Houma.
Edwards, who said she just started in a new position with economic development responsibilities, said the seminar was "very informative.
"This was a great first immersion," Edwards said. "It covered all the bases – incentives, recruitment, marketing, retention."
Mike Taylor, state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, said the seminar was important because it demonstrates "the value of networking, the value of knowing the partners involved in economic development.
"Programs like this are absolutely crucial to help you serve your communities," Taylor told the participants as he reviewed the USDA programs aimed at rural development.
Louisiana’s Smart also called USDA Rural Development an "outstanding, responsive resource for every community in the state."
In addition to the LSU AgCenter, seminar sponsors included the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, CLECO, Entergy, Louisiana Industrial Development Executives Association, AEP Southwestern Electric Power, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development and the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority.
Sandy Dooley at (225) 578-2266 or email@example.com
Karen Overstreet at (225) 578-6701 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or email@example.com