Back in 2002, then-Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach attended a conference in Washington, D.C., and learned about the trend of approaching economic development on a regional basis. Mayor Roach gathered elected officials from the five parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jeff Davis and began discussions on how to work together.
Many of the officials did not know each other and there was some distrust. Over time, the regional concept took shape. The SWLA Partnership for Economic Development was formed comprised of all mayors and police jury presidents from all five parishes.
In 2004, my charge was to put it together. As we began to make progress, Hurricane Rita struck. As recovery efforts began, it was evident that our region needed to step up its game if we were to compete.
In 2006, The SWLA Economic Development Alliance was formed, which combined the limited resources of the Partnership, The Chamber SWLA and the Chamber Foundation, which is now known as the Alliance Foundation. A capital campaign was conducted and funding was put in place to market our area, recruit industry, and address other issues to improve the quality of life for our residents.
Dozens of area businesses of all sizes have contributed each year along with the public sector to fund our economic development programs. Without the support of these civic-minded organizations, we would not have been successful.
For four of the last eight years, the SWLA Alliance has been named in the top 10 economic development groups in the nation and the Small Market of the Year for nine straight years by Southern Business and Development Magazine.
This recognition is because of the teamwork from elected officials, the ports, airports, the state, and the private sector, which has invested heavily in our region. The completed and announced industrial projects total $109 billion with over 10,000 jobs, in addition to the over 18,000 construction jobs, with more on the way.
This development has resulted in increased sales tax and property tax so our schools, cities and parishes can improve roads, water, sewer treatment and other needs including quality of life improvements such as parks and recreation.
When the impact of the hurricanes was upon us, adversity brought us together. As prosperity begins to increase it is only natural for some entities to think they can compete alone.
It is important for us to keep moving ahead because we still must address the issues caused by our 18 percent poverty rate, lack of early childhood education and workforce skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. These jobs utilize STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. So there is still much to do.
Working together as a region will help us continue our progress.
In fact, we can expand our potential by working with other regions, mainly, Acadiana and the Golden Triangle of Southeast Texas. We share many commonalities with each.
Of particular interest during this Census year is to work with Acadiana to maintain our congressional district to include the Lafayette and Lake Charles metros. There will be changes to the federal congressional and state legislative districts. We want to keep our districts in-tact as much as possible. That’s why area Chambers from our region have been meeting with the Acadiana Chambers to consider working together on redistricting and other areas such as infrastructure and workforce development. The I-10 Bridge is important to Acadiana along the I-10 corridor just as completion of I-49 South is important to our region.
To compete internationally our best shot is to keep the regional approach. As has been said …to succeed we must think globally, act locally.