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Chamber celebrates 17 years with annual banquet

LULING — Seventeen years ago, the River Region Chamber of Commerce was born out of a vision of spirit, unity and regionalism among businesses in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes.

Today, the organization stands 357 businesses strong, encompassing roughly 13,000 employees across the River Region. The Chamber has also maintained an 82 percent retention rate, even with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday’s annual banquet marked the first large gathering in more than a year, signaling a light at the end of the tunnel. 2020/2021 Chairwoman Aspen Murphy of Sylvia Taylor and Associates remembers last year’s banquet had a sold out crowd, and everyone greeted each other with a hug or a kiss on the cheek.

The world turned upside down, but the River Region Chamber of Commerce and its members found a way to succeed. It took a willingness to adapt; the Chamber’s first Women’s Empowerment Series, originally planned as a one-day session, became a four-day, virtual networking event. The Chamber also adapted its River Region Leadership program to a virtual format and included a timely session on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Murphy is passionate about tailoring programming to meet the needs of the community, especially as society navigates difficult times. She is confident that better days are just around the corner.

“Last week on my birthday, two days after the Chamber’s birthday, I was very proud to host a vaccine clinic. I could see the look in the people’s eyes when they came in to get their vaccine, and there was a sparkle of hope,” Murphy said.

She added, “Diamonds are created by pressure, and I think the pressure of 2020 has created a lot of diamonds. But you made it. We’re almost there.”

Executive Director Chassity McComack said resiliency is part of the foundation of Louisiana. She encouraged all in attendance to be encouraged, to be hopeful and to inspire hope in others on a daily basis while the Chamber continues its good work in the community.

“Your chamber will continue to be a connector that puts credibility and community first while delivering benefits of public policy, networking and small business support. With your engagement, we will continue to build a lasting legacy for this region, not just for us, but for those who are going to come after us,” McComack said.

Representative Randal Gaines, Senator Gary Smith and Representative Greg Miller attended the annual banquet and pledged to look out for the best interests of local business owners in upcoming fiscal sessions.

Gaines said the River Parish area is a jewel for the state of Louisiana, and the River Region Chamber of Commerce has an important role in communicating the needs of businesses, industry and citizens in the region.

“Knowing what you need allows us to be able to aid you,” he said.

Miller said there is a lot planned for the legislative session beginning on April 12 regarding tax reform, particularly focused on centralized tax collection. One big success from last year involved enacting tort reform to bring down insurance rates.

Senator Gary Smith said local governments are slated to receive more federal aid, which will go a long way to filling some of the financial holes created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen an upturn. The revenue projections are not as bleak as they were,” Smith said.

Representatives from the offices of Congressman Garret Graves and Senator John Kennedy were also in attendance.

The following River Region Chamber Board members were recognized before the banquet ended with a festive and fun second line send-off: Paul Aucoin, Emile Broussard III, Scott Burton, Aaron Canciennne, Kevin Hebert, Libby Hotard, Diane Jackson, Dayna James, Katie Klibert, Ileana Ledet, John Little, Bub Millet, Michele Millet, Rene Ockman , Jay Robichaux, Rusty Rebowe, Penny Schumaker, Tricia Thompson, Gloria Trahan and Wayne Vicknair.