Resilience to Rebirth: River Region Chamber celebrates 18th birthday

Published 5:26 pm Monday, March 21, 2022

LAPLACE — Emerging from a global pandemic and hurricane devastation, the River Region Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 18th birthday with a mindset of “resiliency to rebirth.”

According to Chamber leaders, perseverance and new beginnings start with viewing the three River Parishes as one.

When Aspen Murphy stepped into the role of chairperson of the River Region Chamber in January 2020, she had no idea the world would change in two short months. Murphy delivered outgoing remarks at the Chamber Banquet held last Friday at Belle Terre Country Club in LaPlace.

“My one-year term quickly turned to two. While we couldn’t control external factors, we could control our resiliency and our resolve to do better,” Murphy said. “Local businesses were so vital during the height of the pandemic when they pivoted what they normally do to help our region. I think that’s what makes our area different. We operate collectively as the River Region.”

The River Region Chamber helped businesses survive in an uncertain environment while adjusting programming from in-person to virtual and hybrid platforms. Post-Hurricane Ida, the Chamber opened its doors to the Small Business Administration to help 1,357 small businesses receive hurricane relief. As a result, local residents as well as businesses received $99.4 million in assistance.

The River Region Chamber additionally worked with outside organizations and Parish officials to provide more than 1,700 meals throughout St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes. Large scale giveaways included gas cards, cleaning supplies and other basic necessities.

“We are thankful we were able to help out at a time of need,” Murphy said.

One of Murphy’s primary goals as Chair was to introduce women’s empowerment programming. While the 2020 conference had to be modified to a virtual platform, the series introduced Chamber members to dynamic speakers throughout the United States. According to Murphy, successful programming would not have been possible without a dedicated Executive Committee that remained intact for a two-year term despite unprecedented challenges.

2022 Chairperson of the Board Scott Burton will carry the torch forward as the River Region Chamber continues its efforts to grow, strengthen and unify businesses in the tri-parish area.

Burton recognized the first responders and parish officials who became heroes during the region’s time of need. While the road to recovery is long, he recognizes that the Chamber is at the forefront and will continue growing for years to come.

“We took a hit, lost a few members and had damage to the building, but we are still standing. We are resilient, as are you, and that’s why we refer to resiliency to rebirth,” Burton said. “Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. Rebirth is the process of restarting to flourish.”

Keynote speaker for the 2022 Chamber Banquet was Paul Matthews, the new executive director for the Port of South Louisiana and the first African American port director for the state of Louisiana.

By sharing a commitment to infrastructure, agriculture and industry, Matthews explained how the Port of South Louisiana’s goals are intricately tied to the River Region Chamber of Commerce.

“It is my goal that my Port be a partner with the chamber. You guys understand that our community moves because of business and economic development. What we do at the Port is simply to support what you do on a daily basis,” Matthews said.

According to Matthews, 100 million tons of grain move through the Port each year, and 60% of the nation’s grain is transported through the lower Mississippi River.

“Everyone is connected. For every job in the state, one in four are connected to transportation. This Port needs to be connected at the hip with your chamber because what happens in St. Charles, St. John and St. James impacts us and vice versa. Our Port will not be on the sidelines in any way.”

Matthews sated that he sees the region as one, and upcoming projects will benefit businesses across the River Region corridor. The Port of South Louisiana is currently working to expand LA 3127 on the West Bank from St. James to St. Charles Parish. The Port also strives to place a Reserve exit on the Interstate to improve access to the Executive Regional Airport and relieve congestion. In St. Charles Parish, Matthews is in close contact with DOTD regarding construction along the 1-310/Highway 90 corridor.

Another Port of South Louisiana endeavor involves entering an agreement with Greenfield Louisiana LLC to construct a grain elevator in Wallace. Once complete, the grain elevator will be the first built in Louisiana in the past 40 years, and it will be used to increase the throughput of exports and grain by 10%.

Matthews assured Chamber members that as the world prepares for an energy transition, the Port of South Louisiana will be at the forefront, looking at all available resources.