River Region Chamber rooted in spirit of regionalism

Published 9:17 am Saturday, January 28, 2023

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LAPLACE — When the River Region Chamber of Commerce was formed in 2004, it was difficult to imagine that 19 years later, the organization would be more than 300 businesses strong.

Founded in the spirit of regionalism and collaboration, the River Region Chamber has continued to cultivate relationships of all sizes, putting credibility and community first while delivering networking, public policy and small business support. Successes over the years were highlighted during the 2023 Banquet, hosted last week at 321 Events in LaPlace. With more than 200 in attendance, local business representatives heard from outgoing Chairman Scott Burton of Cox Media and welcomed incoming Chairwoman Diane Jackson of The Slone Group.

The banquet also featured swearing in of 2023 Board members by the Honorable Jude Gravois of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and acknowledgment of “Life members” Conley Dutreix, John Little and Paul Aucoin for unwavering support since the Chamber’s inception.

Burton reflected on how, just one year ago, Chamber members convened at Belle Terre Country Club in LaPlace to reflect on the 2022 theme of “Resiliency to Rebirth.” Many were displaced from their homes at the time, Burton included, and were looking for ways to help their businesses rebound from the impact of Hurricane Ida.

Burton was proud to announce that in the past year, the Chamber has welcomed 54 new members. The conference room on Belle Terre Blvd. has been upgraded into a state-of-the-art facility that members are using to conduct business. Meanwhile, the River Region Chamber’s public policy committee was active and mobile, especially when asked to take a strong stance on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Accountability Standards. Other opportunities for open dialogue were found through forums with the tri-parish presidents, sheriffs and superintendents, as well as other special programming such as the Women’s Empowerment brunch.

“I didn’t expect to get so much back from what I gave this year,” Burton said. “I’m relatively new to Louisiana. I’ve been living here for five years, and this was an excellent opportunity to meet parish presidents, organizations, and go to so many fun events,” Burton said. “Our committees work tirelessly to attract new members, set ambitious goals, conduct events and support our mission. We updated our three-year strategic plan with specific objectives to grow in member retention, policy and advocacy while growing our foundation.”

As incoming chairwoman, Diane Jackson believes the path forward for the River Region Chamber is the ability to connect businesses with one another, across industries and parish lines.

“Our Tri-Parish area has remained connected across some of the most difficult times this area has ever experienced,” Jackson said. “To be frank, I think many of us didn’t think we would make it through. Our faith and our resiliency kept us moving forward.”

Jackson’s Chamber service dates back more than 10 years, when Ronnie Slone gave her his seat in the Jefferson Parish Chamber and encouraged her to work as if it were her main job. Jackson currently serves as the director of curriculum and programs for the Slone Group, and she also coordinates Leadership River Region. As an active leader in the Greater New Orleans area, she has contributed her time and talents to the betterment of the community as a committee chair for the New Orleans African American Museum and the Jefferson Rise Charter School.

Jackson is assured that she won’t be alone as she leads the River Region Chamber in 2023. She compared Chamber leadership to a relay race where runners hand off the baton but continue running alongside you.

During the banquet, attendees also heard from guest speaker Michael Hecht, president and CEO of GNO Inc.

Hecht explained that the relationship between the chambers of commerce and GNO Inc. dates back to the early 20th Century with the formation of the Progressive Union of Greater New Orleans in 1902, which became the Regional Chamber of Commerce in 1911.

In 1991, Metro Vision was formed to be the economic development component of the chamber. Unfortunately, competition developed between the entities, leading to a split in the early 2000s. Metro Vision continued forward as GNO Inc. in 2004, while several regional chambers of commerce were born.

“What I’m so proud about is how, in the past few years, we’ve kind of come back together again, and it’s been a bit of a family reunion. We are stronger together,” Hecht said.

Hecht spoke about GNO Inc. and the River Region Chamber’s shared game plan, including an “offense” of traditional economic development projects. Hecht said the River Region and Louisiana as a whole have a choice whether to move toward a cleaner future with industry or fall victim of groups who wish to shut down industry completely. This ties in with the region’s “defense” to prepare the workforce for energy evolution while competing nationally to become a hub for clean hydrogen storage.

“The real measure of knowing in 20 or 30 years whether this experiment has worked is whether our kids and grandkids are here, on their own volition, raising their families. That’s what all of this defense is about,” Hecht said.