Economic development director looks to past for answers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2012



LAPLACE – With the right business climate and healthy collaboration from business leaders, workforce developers and legislators, newly appointed Economic Development Director Torri Buckles said St. John the Baptist Parish could foster an economy of small enterprises and larger industry.

“It is a lot like an ecosystem in that each element of business development must work together for a common goal,” said Buckles, a LaPlace resident who spent the past few years working in the state Office of Economic Development before joining Parish President Natalie Robottom’s administration in January. “We need feedback and support from workforce builders in the high schools and the technical college. We need solid legislative relations at the parish and state level. We also need a successful marketing and communication plan that tells our parish’s story.”

Buckles said that “story” is one that goes back to the early beginnings of the River Region, when German settlers established communities along the river and started entrepreneurial ventures that built the settlements.

“I’m a bit of a history buff, so when I started with the parish I got into some of the books written recently about the region’s history,” Buckles said. “When site selectors come to the area looking for places to set up shop, they are often excited about all of our amenities that we all know about, but they also want to know what we are about. There is a great history of strong entrepreneurs in this area, and we need to promote that story.”

In addition to attracting the larger corporations and industries, Buckles said the parish needs to give the community’s smaller businesses the attention they deserve as well.

“The business climate needs to be much more friendly, and it needs to be a less cumbersome process,” Buckles said. “A big problem with our system is that it is too discombobulated. The offices are scattered and the process is very time consuming.”

Buckles said the major problem is not with attracting small business, but more about how to retain them for the long haul. During her time at Louisiana Economic Development, Buckles said she was involved with community outreach working with startup and first stage business from New Orleans to Alexandria. She said one major problem she always encountered was there were so many business owners who lacked the capacity to make good business decisions.

“These people have a passion for what they are doing, but many of them just didn’t have the business plan,” Buckles said. “How do you know where to grow if you don’t know where you are? Many business owners just had no knowledge of the incentives, the training programs and the technical assistance that is available to help them. That is something I want to work on here.”

Buckles said one thing Robottom wants to move on in her new term in office is the development of a small business incubator similar to those set up in Baton Rouge for technology and in St. Charles Parish for the food service industry.

“Most business owners jump right in head first and move to quickly to buy up a property they may not need right away,” Buckles said. “Many people just need one or two offices to rent and don’t need a large expansive place right away. Incubators promote collaboration and help business owners with the business end so that they can focus on their product or service, and over time they will build up enough to where they can make a larger investment.”