Panel discussion highlights Economic Development Week

Published 12:03 am Saturday, May 14, 2022

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RESERVE — As remote work takes precedence in a post-COVID world, a community’s economic development becomes intrinsically linked to quality of life.

In celebration of Economic Development Week 2022, St. John the Baptist Parish hosted a panel discussion that explored how communities can build a favorable climate to move economic development forward.

Panelists included Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment; Michael Hecht, CEO of GNO Inc., Stacey Neal, director of community competitiveness for Louisiana Economic Development; and Ashley Llewellyn, director of strategic initiatives for St. Tammany Corporation. Stanley Bienemy, director of economic development for St. John Parish, served as the moderator.

Stelly spoke about how Louisiana was one of the first states to approach the film industry from an economic development standpoint through motion picture incentives. St. John Parish has the benefit of having a soundstage in the St. John Community Center, and the region is unique in that it offers a diverse selection of filming locations.

Stelly said it’s important to consider both the disruptions to the community that productions can bring, as well as the benefits and community partnerships that can blossom with film industry presence.

While the film industry by in large requires in-person participation, many other industries have seen a staggering shift to remote work opportunities.

As Hecht sees it, raising capital comes down to cultivating an environment where people can raise families.

“Now it’s less about where the headquarters are and more about where the employees are,” Hecht said. “It’s about creating an environment where people want to live.”

Neal pointed out that quality of life wasn’t a top 25 concern of Louisiana workers until 10 years ago.

“Now it is top five. They want to know what you have to offer me. What does the education system look like?” Neal said.

Llewellyn said there needs to be a focus on educational and training resources available to employees, whether a company has a team of two people or a team of 2,000 people. Small Business Training Centers, such as the center located at the River Parishes Community College campus, can provide valuable resources to small and emergent businesses.

She added that every community has a story, and telling that story is a way to attract people and businesses to a community. She challenged the audience to think about what local attractions they would show a friend or go-to spots to celebrate with family. Even the local playground with the coolest slide or the friendly florist who greets you by name are part of the larger story.

“These things may seem small, but they really do tell the story of your community,” Llewellyn said.

Hecht said a strong main street program and clean energy sources can help drive a community forward. At the center of it all must be a local government known for reliability and transparency.

“We don’t have enough people in government who know what it’s like to have to make payroll,” Hecht said.

Economic Development Week was formed in 2016 to bring awareness to local programs that create jobs and increase quality of life. Other events in St. John Parish this week included a networking/coffee talk, St. John Day at the state capital and a career fair.