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|Community weighs in on West 20/20 vision project|
More than 100 people joined local officials and an Atlanta consulting firm Monday to formulate a comprehensive plan for western Ouachita Parish and address concerns of western Ouachita residents.
Topping the list of concerns in western Ouachita included improving the local water supply, job creation and educational issues.
Monday night's event at the West Monroe Convention Center was the first town hall meeting for West 20/20. It 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 the comprehensive plan for western Ouachita Parish.
The study is being conducted by Jay Gardner's Competitive Strategies Group of Atlanta.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said the project started with the understanding that if the plan didn't incorporate the community's vision, "nothing was going to happen."
"There are people in our community who are ready to start making a difference and plan for the future instead of just letting things happen," Norris said. "I wanted this to be something that we can look back on 20 years from now and say this was a turning point for our community."
"That's what I hope will come out of this project," Norris added.
Blake Wheelies, chairman of the West Ouachita/West Monroe Chamber of Commerce, said the project was a concerted effort by numerous people in western Ouachita Parish, which began several months ago.
"We want to focus on the entire west side of the river," Wheelies explained. "We all know that kids who go to West Monroe High School, people who go to your church, they come from all over this side of the parish. We must focus on the larger community that is west Ouachita Parish."
In November 2008, the chamber formed a steering committee to help identify six areas of concern in western Ouachita that needed to be the focus of the study.
Those six areas involved in the study included the role of local government, cultivating new leadership for the future; determining what needs to be done to enhance the qualify of life in western Ouachita; community development, which includes workforce training issues and determining the sites that are available for potential business; education; and marketing of the region.
The chamber then held several focus groups to receive input from a variety of people. The focus groups labeled certain characteristics of western Ouachita and also discussed issues facing the community.
Overall, people in the focus groups said western Ouachita was a community friendly place and very family oriented while schools were pointed to as a plus in western Ouachita.
"We fully understand that the backbone of our economy is good schools," Wheelies continued. "If you saw the growth we had as a community back through the 90s, that was based around the decision this community made in the early 90s to fund new school facilities and improve the quality of education in our community. That has paid off in a huge way in our community. We have good schools, but we still have room to improve so we can continue to build on that. But one thing we may have not done is let everybody else know how good these schools are. We need to market that and brag about it."
Following about two hours of round table discussion, participants narrowed down concerns to two or three top priorities.
Teams will now be formed by June 24 to address these concerns to come up with plans to address those issues.
Those teams will develop the next steps of the community vision plan from July through September.
The teams will report to the chamber's steering committee in October. After the October meeting, the comprehensive plan will be unveiled to the public.