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|Regional economic development group takes shape|
A new economic development organization with plans to unite a five-parish region of northeastern Louisiana is set to kick off a fund-raising campaign later this month.
At the same time, the northeast Louisiana regional economic alliance will begin a nationwide search to find a qualified CEO, according to alliance board member Todd Perry.
"We would hope by the fall, early fourth quarter, to have the campaign completed, the CEO in place and have this thing underway," Perry said.
Perry co-chairs the finance committee for the regional economic alliance group, which has not adopted an official name.
The group hopes to unite economic development efforts from five parishes under one organization to market the economic development assets of the entire region.
The regional alliance encompasses Ouachita, Lincoln, Union, Morehouse and Jackson parishes.
Once a CEO is in place, the regional alliance will begin marketing the resources, workforce and available business and industrial space to businesses and industries around the world.
Perry said the business community should start considering itself one large region because that's the way the area looks to people from other areas of the country and beyond.
"Our region is fairly fractured," Perry said. "The problem we have is people from outside our area see this as one region."
That means prospective employers who visit the region are not drawing the same distinctions between communities that local residents draw, Perry said.
"I definitely feel like we're playing catch up," Perry said. "But I'm glad that we are now actually catching up."
Former Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Ben Marshall compared the new alliance to a similar group in southern Arkansas.
The Southeastern Arkansas Cornerstone Coalition, a six-county economic development organization focused on marketing that area of Arkansas, operates in Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Desha, Drew and Lincoln counties.
Marshall said the Arkansas group has had considerable success in its three-year existence, especially in securing major funding for the kinds of transportation and infrastructure development projects that draw business and industry to a region.
Marshall attributed the Cornerstone Coalition's success to that group's ability to demonstrate unity to elected officials and leaders of business and industry.
Too often, Marshall said, elected officials look for reasons not to support a project.
"One of the main reasons they use is everybody is not behind this," Marshall said. "If you can come on a unified front on a particular project, the chances of that project succeeding are much more likely."
Marshall pointed to the Interstate 69 project in southern Arkansas, the Interstate 530 in Arkansas, too, and a new intermodal transit facility near Monticello as examples of successes the Cornerstone Coalition has enjoyed in the past few years.
"I've seen the same thing happen here locally, but I think the regional economic alliance would emphasize that and make that kind of success more likely and far more frequent," Marshall said.
Local businesses also stand to benefit from a more regionalized approach to economic development, according to John Klagholz, who owns and operates Interstate Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep in West Monroe.
Klagholz moved the new car sales division of his dealership to a new, multi-million dollar facility off Interstate 20 last year.
Klagholz said regionalizing economic development could have an immediate impact on existing businesses.
"We've taken a regional approach as it is, as far as our advertising and marketing scheme," said Klagholz. "We're pulling from probably a 50-mile radius."
"Regionalization would bring unity," Klagholz. "And that would help everybody."
Klagholz pointed to three colleges, good public and private schools, access to railroads, the Ouachita River and Interstate 20 as just a few features of the northeastern corner of Louisiana that might prove attractive to some businesses.
Educational opportunities in the five-parish region would also signal a strong available workforce, Klagholz said.
"If we can bring all of that together, we'll be able to attract businesses and that leads to new revenue, be it business revenue or tax revenue," Klagholz said.