Disruption is a buzzword we hear often. There is disruption caused by technology, growth, and political issues to name a few. Some of the changes are positive and provide opportunities. Many of the changes are challenging. Recently, I visited our five parishes working on various issues and have a renewed appreciation of the various communities with their individual culture, strength, and needs. Disruption in our region mirrors the national issues. For example, there is a major change taking place in the retail sector with the “Amazon Effect” a major cause.
Online shopping has chiseled away at local retailers. Businesses which are “Amazon–proof” can do well. That is, a store or business that has goods or services you can’t order online. Stores of the future may merge online shopping with their brick and mortar stores. Consumers still prefer to visit a store to see the merchandise and try on clothes before they buy. Several large chains have closed their stores nationwide and that has impacted our region also. However, many new businesses are opening. There are more new businesses opening than closing but the closing stores get more attention.
For example, much has been made about the closing of the aging 12th Street Kroger. That chain built a new superstore on Country Club Road. The Walmart Neighborhood Market on Ryan at 12th is a clean, new store and shoppers responded. Meanwhile, Rouses has come into our market with two new stores and more on the way. Retailers look for markets. If a neighborhood or community can’t support a store then they won’t come. Our shopping habits affect retailers’ decisions. If we shop outside our market area then we are contributing to fewer new businesses or to the closing of stores.
The Alliance was founded on regional collaboration and economic growth and inclusion for all residents. In the past few years, we have looked at rural parishes and communities and how they can improve economically as well as the more urban areas.
For example, the main thoroughfare in the largest city in our region, Ryan Street, is in need of re-development and beautification. Looking at Ryan Street as three different districts can help us not only clean up and beautify the street, but also to make it more viable for businesses. There’s “Downtown” from North Ryan to Sallier; “Mid-town” from Sallier to I-210; and “ SOMC” (so-mac)….south of I-210 to McNeese, a McNeese–themed district. We are fortunate to have McNeese in our region and need to demonstrate our community pride. Already the university has begun to showcase that district with McNeese banners. A new park in front of Frasch Hall is being built.
Many businesses along Ryan Street do a great job of landscaping and litter control, but many others need to jump on the bandwagon. Now more than ever, with billions of dollars in industrial projects, we need to stand unified as a region. No neighborhood or community can compete in today’s economy by itself. When the initial announcement of a new plant by Sasol was announced, the Go Group was formed with leaders from all areas of our region called to address growth issues. After time, this effort went away. Some issues were dealt with but many remain unsolved.
Among those lingering issues are poverty, healthcare, failing schools, economic opportunity, and inadequate infrastructure. Our region needs to address our issues forthrightly. Only by open discussions and working together can we make Southwest Louisiana a region we all are proud to call home. There is enough disruption in our society to overcome, if, we do everything right. Cutting our 18% poverty rate and increasing opportunities for the 40% of our population who are living paycheck to paycheck, is our goal at The Alliance. Hopefully, that’s a goal citizens of our region can embrace.