Roundtable on Economic Development Week – L’Observateur

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

To celebrate Economic Development Week 2022, St. John the Baptist Parish hosted a panel discussion that explored how communities can create a supportive climate to advance economic development.

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’s Parish, served as moderator.

Stelly explained how Louisiana was one of the first states to approach the film industry from an economic development perspective through film incentives. St. John’s Parish benefits from having a sound stage in the St. John Community Center, and the area is unique in that it offers a diverse selection of filming locations.

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

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

According to Hecht, raising capital is about cultivating an environment where people can raise families.

“Now it’s less about where the head office is 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 was not one of Louisiana’s top 25 workers’ concerns until 10 years ago.

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

Llewellyn said the focus should be on the education and training resources available to employees, whether a company has a two-person team or a 2,000-person team. Small business training centers, such as the center located on the campus of River Parishes Community College, can provide valuable resources for emerging small 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 of what local attractions they would show a friend or where to go to celebrate with family. Even the local playground with the coolest slide or the friendly florist who greets you by name is part of the bigger story.

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

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

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

Economic Development Week was created in 2016 to raise awareness of local programs that create jobs and improve quality of life. Other events in St. John’s Parish this week included a networking/coffee chat, St. John’s Day in the state capitol, and a job fair.