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|Input sought to map out western Ouachita's future|
Western Ouachita Parish leaders are in the midst of shaping a comprehensive plan for the future of western Ouachita, and the public is needed to provide input.
The first town hall meeting for West 20/20 will be held 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 8, at the West Monroe Convention Center.
West 20/20 is a community vision project spearheaded by the West Ouachita/West Monroe Chamber of Commerce, the city of West Monroe and Louisiana Economic Development Corp.
The city of West Monroe in February agreed to help fund a $60,000 study to develop a comprehensive plan for western Ouachita Parish.
The study is being lead by Jay Garner of Competitive Strategies Group in Atlanta, Ga.
"We're way into the process now," said Blake Wheelis, chairman of the West Ouachita/West Monroe chamber.
"The West 20/20 is the buzz word for this visioning study," Wheelis explained. "The west is because we're talking about west Ouachita Parish, and the 20/20 means giving clear vision for the future, but it also relates to the I-20 corridor, which is very important when we want to picture ourselves in the next 10 or 20 years. We're definitely tied to what happens along the interstate."
Six areas involved in the study include government, leadership, quality of place, community development, education and branding.
"With government, we're looking at government's role and how we should depend on government and what it should look like on the west side of the river," Wheelis said. "Leadership is how we cultivate leaders who will step up and be the leaders for west Ouachita Parish in the future."
Quality of place involves looking at what is needed to enhance the quality of life in western Ouachita Parish.
Community development involves determining which sites are available for potential businesses as well as workforce training issues and access to services.
"With education, we think we have an exceptional school system," Wheelis said. "We just haven't marketed it very well. We've got a great story to tell with the schools on the west side of the river and we're going to tell that story."
For the branding aspect of the study, Wheelis said local leaders must focus on how to position western Ouachita globally for economic growth.
"What face do we want to put out there that says, 'This is west Ouachita Parish and this is why you should be here,'" Wheelis said.
The town hall meeting on Monday will present an opportunity for western Ouachita residents to voice their opinion about any issues related to life in western Ouachita and the future of their area.
During the town hall meeting, attendees can meet with local leaders and consultants to talk about the issues they are interested in, Wheelis said.
"Everyone will have a chance to give input, so we will have an even broader amount of information," he said.
Garner's consultant group took information from recent study groups to determine the most important issues in western Ouachita Parish.
"Those issues will drive the discussion at each table during the town hall meeting," Wheelis said. "We want people to be very open and honest and forward thinking as they talk about what they want west Ouachita Parish to look like five years, 10 years from now.
"The success of this whole study is input. If it's all just input from a few people, it won't be successful, so we've got to have input from community leaders, folks who've been here forever, and people from outside our community who've moved here. There will be opportunities to act later on. This is just the input phase. This meeting on June 8 is the critical point right now. It's important we get plenty of people from all over west Ouachita Parish to turn out and give their input. We'll invite people to take part in action later, but right now we're planning and we desperately need the help of all of our citizens so we head in the right direction."
After the town hall meeting, local leaders and consultants will be tasked to come up with plans to address concerns and input gathered from the focus groups and town hall meeting.
"If we produce this wish list, we also have to know how we're going to do it," Wheelis said. "We need input to determine as a community what we are willing to do to get where we need to be."
The group plans to have the community vision plan completed by September.