Economic development is fairly simple. Creating and retaining jobs is the focus. If successful, a community thrives. For some god-forsaken reason, the state of Louisiana and parish of East Baton Rouge have gone mad over economic development. No one has explained it better than C. B. Forgotston in his blog on Stephen Moret. If you haven’t read it, please do yourself a favor and read it today!
Zeroing in on EBR Parish, you should be aware that Mayor Kip Holden entered into an agreement with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber to handle economic development for the Red Stick. This million dollar contract, yes $1,000,000, netted him an endorsement for the upcoming election. I suppose it would have been too much to ask for the Chamber to stick to economic development and stay out of a political race?
In 2006 Stephen Moret, then head of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, traveled on the 3rd economic development Baton Rouge contingency trip to North Carolina. Perhaps businessman John Noland made the most prolific statement among those participating. Noland said “Until we figure out a way to lift 41% of our African-American community out of poverty, we’re not going to be the city we need to be.”
Instead of listening to Noland’s challenge, Mayor Kip Holden banked on changing the Red Stick by building an entertainment district in downtown Baton Rouge. Holden has poured millions of tax dollars into downtown since that trip in hopes this would be the economic development ticket to paradise.
Nevermind the “Keys to Baton Rouge Growth” which came out of the contingency trip. Nevermind that “reducing poverty levels through education and training” was #3 on the list. Holden has other priorities. Shortly after the trip, consideration was given to allowing bars downtown to stay open past 2:00 a.m. This would explain the late night security guard logs for “Mayors Function” until 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. uncovered recently by the media. I digress. Nevermind that Raleigh didn’t even have a downtown entertainment district. Their city’s focus was on education and research. Duh?
In January of 2007, Mayor Kip Holden pushed the Metro Council to pay the Baton Rouge Area Chamber $500,000 of taxpayer’s money in lieu of creating an economic development department in-house. Moret said, at that time, that he had secured an additional $2.5 million to add to the pot for marketing Baton Rouge.
Now it’s 2008. Moret has moved on to the state with the same rhetoric he had while at the helm of the BR Chamber and a $320,000 salary to boot. Mayor Kip Holden has paid another $500,000 to the Chamber for economic development this year. But Downtown is still the major focus for Holden as he wants to build parking garages, hotels, a tourist attraction and a new administrative building among a few carrots he is throwing law enforcement and fire personnel for new headquarters.
Meanwhile our citizens are struggling for affordable healthcare in order to keep or find their place in the workplace. Employers are struggling to find a trained workforce. Crime ravishes the streets of the Red Stick and our recidivism rate for criminals is less than desirable. Transportation woes along with high gas prices affect single parents struggling trying to make ends meet. The need for improved education and job training is a major priority that we cannot continue to ignore.
As I said in the beginning. Forgotston got it right this time. We don’t need pontification by Moret, nor Holden. We need action. Get down into the trenches folks. Remember the taxpayers you promised to serve and improve their quality of life?
John Noland and C. B. Forgotston are both pioneers in their respective fields and activists that have put their money and talent where it has made a difference. We need a mayor that can emulate their fortitude and action. We need a new mayor that will SLASH THE BUDGET, SPEND MONEY MORE WISELY, TRAIN OUR WORKFORCE AND RAISE OUR CITIZENS OUT OF THE MIRE.
Question of the day: Do you want to know what the best thing for Baton Rouge economic development would be?
Answer: Empower citizens to thrive so much that businesses will flock to our parish for a qualified, trained, motivated workforce.
In ending, how many individuals could we have trained for the workforce with the money we have spent on Mayor Kip Holden’s security guards? One? Two? Five? Ten? Whatever that number is would put us closer to our goal for true economic development. I venture to guess that the hundreds of thousands of dollars could have made a difference in a few Red Stick citizens. That’s economic development.
Until next time,
Red Stick Republican