Economic Development Week celebrates progress

Published 2:49 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2022

LAPLACE — Economic Development Week 2022 is a reminder that St. John the Baptist Parish is open for business and looking toward the future, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida.

The week kicked off Monday morning with a coffee chat/networking event at PJ’s Coffee in LaPlace.

Wednesday’s featured event will be an Economic Development 101 Panel discussion led by Chris Stelly of Louisiana Entertainment, Michael Hetcht of GNO Inc., Stacey Neal of Louisiana Economic Development and Ashley Llewellyn of St. Tammany Corporation. The discussion is scheduled for noon at REGALA gymnasium in Reserve.

On Thursday, May 12, Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and the Economic Development team will journey to the Louisiana State Capitol to tell the story of St. John Parish and share what is important to the local businesses and community.

Economic Development Week ends with a Job and Career Fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, May 13 at REGALA Gym.

One of the resources available to the small business community is the St. John Parish Business Training Center.

Through a cooperative endeavor agreement with Louisiana Economic Development, Louisiana Small Business Development Center, and River Parish Community College – River Parish Campus, the Business Training Center offers one-on-one consulting, training / FastTrac, seminars, monthly workshops, onsite technical assistance and quarterly lunch and learns. The Business Training Center is staffed by Wayne Aucoin and Yasmine McGee from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and by appointment on Friday.

Economic Development Director Stanley Bienemy said business training resources never paused during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they moved to a virtual platform, and there is now an opportunity to transition back to in-person programming.

Bienemy said St. John Economic Development has also worked closely with Louisiana Development Ready Communities to set long-term goals that will create a roadmap to future development.

“They helped us conduct surveys. One day we were stationed at the LaPlace branch Library, and another day we were at the Edgard Courthouse,” Bienemy said. “We developed strategies to get us to those goals we want to accomplish. This allows us to identify areas of improvement and also allows the community a way to track progress.”

The survey identified community needs as well as successes. According to Bienemy, people felt positive about police and fire services in St. John Parish, and many saw room for improvement in retail/shopping experiences.

Parish President Hotard said it’s important to educate residents on the role of St. John Parish Economic Development.

“Ultimately, private businesses make private investments. Government can’t build private businesses, but we can encourage and promote a healthy economic environment to attract businesses,” Hotard said.

Prior to Hurricane Ida, St. John Parish invited some larger developers to share the challenges associated with building in the region. Hotard said St. John Parish is seeing the fruits of that labor with the addition of well-known brands like Chick-fil-A and Aldi to the St. John Parish community.

Hotard said beautification is another important aspect of economic development. While Ida brought destruction, she said there is now an opportunity to revitalize major corridors and create an environment catered to business development.

“People want to expand or bring a business to an area that looks attractive,” she said. “We have engaged two firms to look at our I-10 corridors and make some recommendations on beautification.”

Bienemy added that projects like the Airline and Main Complete Streets take advantage of pedestrian paths, connecting businesses and encouraging foot traffic that would not be possible on a highway with no medians, crossings or sidewalks.

Monday’s networking event was attended by small business owners from across the community. Danaya Gathers, representing Express Employment Professionals and the River Region Chamber of Commerce, said education is a major link to economic development. As people decide where they want to live, work and grow their families, the local school system becomes a determining factor.

Pamela Allen, owner of Elite Affairs in LaPlace, said she loves to feel connected to the business community.

“This is knowledge I can bring back to other businesses,” she said.