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A lifeline for local business: connecting the dots

LAPLACE — Rachael B. Burns and Dayna James are united by a passion to see local businesses thrive. Together, they are fostering working relationships and lending a lifeline to help River Region business owners keep their doors open.

Last week, the ladies hosted their first business roundtable discussion in partnership with the River Region Chamber of Commerce. At the end of the meeting, business owners from St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. James parishes were asked to write down their “top three needs” to pay the bills and keep the lights on.

  Over the next several weeks, Burns and James will review the needs of all participants and brainstorm ways to meet those needs with community partnerships.

  James is the owner of United Front Transportation Services, director of the new Choice Marketplace in LaPlace and current chairwoman of the Business Development Committee for the River Region Chamber of Commerce. She’s seen firsthand how much progress can be made when people help people, and it is her hope that the business roundtables can make the community a better place to live and work.

  “Right now, I feel like we are in a 9-1-1 situation with the businesses in this parish. Rome can’t be built overnight and we know this is going to take some time, but at least we are starting the process,” James said.

  Burns promised local business owners, “We are going to follow through.” Round table discussions will be held every other month, allowing time to put action plans in place between meetings.

As regional director of operations for QHotels, headquartered in LaPlace, Burns understands that awareness is key to supporting local business.

  “I really listen to people’s needs and try to figure out what they want and then connect them to each other. That is what I find I do best,” Burns said.

  She added that St. Charles, St. John and St. James should be united as a River Region and ready to support one another with referrals for restaurants, transportation, lodging and other services.

  “The problem is all three parishes think singularly, and they don’t support themselves within their parish,” Burns said. “The phrase I always use is if you put your hand out to me, I need to see a tool in your hand. I keep hearing how no one is doing X, Y, Z for me, but I don’t hear what those hands are doing for someone else. How can we connect the dots?”

  Burns and James first met four years ago following an economic development meeting. QHotels initially partnered with United Front Transportation Services to offer hotel guests round trips to Essence Fest in New Orleans. Not only was the service incredibly successful; it supported a St. John Parish business and allowed guests to save money that would have been used for parking in the city.

  That partnership continued for a number of large events, including Bayou Fest, Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.

  Yet, while these festivals were going on and local hotels were packed, there were hardly any St. John Parish restaurants open for guests.

  Whenever James sees mom and pop restaurants lit up on Friday nights in Hammond and Ponchatoula, she wonders why the River Parishes aren’t seeing that same sense of community.

  According to Burns, there have been other instances within the past year where lodging, transportation and catering services that could be offered within the tri-parishes have been outsourced to Jefferson Parish.

  “What do we need? It’s awareness,” Burns said. “Do I know the business up the street and what they have to offer? Can I intelligently refer people within my parish? Are you established? Are you consistent? These are things that are negatives in our parish. Some businesses open and close their doors in the blink of an eye.”

  Positive relationships with industry was another factor in the recent round table discussion, which was well received by representatives from Marathon and Shell.

  The ladies also made it clear to the participants that, while the community is a force to be reckoned with when united, individuals are ultimately responsible for the success of their business.

“Once we give them the tools, it’s up to them,” James said. “We need to get on one accord.”

To join the effort and support local business, please contact the River Region Chamber of Commerce at 985-359-9777.