Economic Development Week celebrates progress – The Observer

LAPLACE — Economic Development Week 2022 reminds us that Saint-Jean-Baptiste Parish is open for business and forward-looking, 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 a roundtable on Economic Development 101 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 the REGALA gymnasium in Réserve.

On Thursday, May 12, Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and the Economic Development Team will visit the Louisiana State Capitol to tell the story of St. John’s Parish and share what’s important to business and the local community.

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

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

Through a cooperative 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 counseling, training/FastTrac, seminars, monthly workshops, technical assistance on site and quarterly luncheons. The Business Training Center is hosted 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 have never stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they’ve moved to a virtual platform, and it’s now possible to return to in-person programming.

Bienemy said St. John’s Economic Development also worked closely with Louisiana’s development-ready communities to set long-term goals that will create a roadmap for future development.

“They helped us to carry out investigations. One day we were stationed at the LaPlace branch library, and another day we were at the Edgard courthouse,” Bienemy said. “We have developed strategies to achieve the goals we want to achieve. This allows us to identify areas for improvement and also gives the community a way to track progress.

The survey identified community needs as well as successes. According to Bienemy, people had a positive view of St. John’s Parish Police and Fire Services, and many saw room for improvement in the retail/shopping experiences.

Parish President Hotard said it was important to educate residents about the role of economic development in St. John’s Parish.

“At the end of the day, private companies make private investments. The government cannot create private companies, but we can encourage and promote a healthy economic environment to attract businesses,” Hotard said.

Prior to Hurricane Ida, St. John’s Parish invited some major developers to share the challenges associated with building in the area. Hotard said St. John’s 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’s 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 key corridors and create an enabling environment for business development.

“People want to expand or set up a business in an area that looks attractive,” she said. “We hired two companies to review our I-10 corridors and make recommendations on beautification.”

Bienemy added that projects like Airline and Main Complete streets take advantage of pedestrian pathways, connecting businesses and encouraging foot traffic that wouldn’t be possible on a freeway without medians, crossings or sidewalks.

Monday’s networking event brought together 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 at LaPlace, said she loves feeling connected to the business world.

“It’s knowledge that I can bring to other businesses,” she said.