Economic regionalism is not a new concept.
Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, for instance, are part of multi-parish chambers of commerce or economic development organizations. LaPlace-based River Region Chamber of Commerce comprises St. Charles, St. James, and St. John parishes.
A few weeks ago, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce announced that it was transforming into One Acadiana, an organization that aims to unite businesses and economic development organizations in Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary and Vermilion parishes.
The campaign to create a regional association was spearheaded by the GLCC more than a year ago.
Jason El Koubi, GLCC former president and CEO, is One Acadiana’s new president. CEO Joseph Zanco, GLCC’s former chairman, is One Acadiana’s chairmen.
GLCC’s former members are automatically members of One Acadiana. The rest of the 70-plus-member board are donors to the One Acadiana initiative, which met its $3 million fund raising goal in January.
Every member of One Acadiana’s board of directors represents investors who have committed to doling out big bucks to the organization over the next five years.
For example, Jim Moncus, owner of Moncus Energy Group LLC, committed to investing $100,000 annually into One Acadiana. Moncus sits on the 10-member CEO Advisory Council along with Lenny Lemoine, president of the Lemoine Company; Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; and Lafayette General Health System CEO David Callecod, whose companies all agreed to the same investment.
Other companies such as The Daily Advertiser, IBERIABANK, Entergy and Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center all committed to investing at least $50,000 per year into One Acadiana.
Overall, there are about 1,200 investors, members and partners to serve roughly 700,000 people, El Koubi said.
The move to morph the GLCC into One Acadiana is part of larger operating strategy and not an act of consolidation, El Koubi said.
“We are not creating a separate organization,” El Koubi said in a letter to the organization’s members. “We are transforming into a regional organization. We will continue to represent our general membership and are excited to provide new regional engagement opportunities.”
The new alliance will operate with a staff of 22 employees and, for now, in GLCC’s St. Mary Boulevard location and rented office space in the Oil Center until a central location is determined within the year, El Koubi said.
The creation of a regional organization will not directly impact the general enterprise of local chambers and economic development organizations, other Acadiana chamber leaders said.
Lafayette’s chamber is the only body that was drastically altered after the regional initiative was created.
“At this juncture, we do not anticipate that One Acadiana will have any significant impact on the day-to-day operations of this chamber,” said Janet Faulk–Gonzales, president and CEO of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce. “Our primary focus is championing the successes of Iberia Parish and supporting solutions to the unique challenges in this parish. Outside the premise that what is beneficial for our neighbor is beneficial for us, as well as what benefits us will benefit our neighbor, we do not have any specific details of how One Acadiana will directly benefit Iberia Parish.”
However, One Acadiana will provide additional resources for policy and economic development. Some of that is currently provided by the Acadiana Economic Development Council, which is underfunded, according to council vice chairwoman and Crowley Chamber of Commerce CEO Amy Thibodeaux.
“It is truly exciting to see the additional resources of both staff and dollars that El Koubi’s team will be putting towards regional economic development,” she said. “Every other area of the state has a strong regional economic development group. AEDC is doing a great job, but underfunded. One Acadiana will allow us to begin playing on the level of other nationally competitive organizations like the ones that already exist in Louisiana.”
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber is also composed of nine parishes and about 1,300 members. The regional approach has helped solidify the central Louisiana economy, president and CEO Adam Knapp said.
“A regional approach to economic development enables a particular geography to speak in a collective voice, typically on behalf of a broad cross-section of businesses and industry,” Knapp told The Daily Advertiser. “It also forges cohesion among individual economic development organizations within the region in differentiating itself, based on the uniqueness of its regional assets. For the Baton Rouge Area, that sense of regional cohesion has been nothing short of transformative.”
But without a Lafayette chamber of commerce, who is representing business in the parish?
Zanco acknowledged that there have been concerns from some in business community about a possible loss of advocacy in Lafayette Parish, or a regional coup by the GLCC.
“We’ve heard concerns of both sides,” he Wednesday. He said the organization is currently developing policies to fairly promote businesses in all nine participating parishes.
“One Acadiana will remain focused on local issues in Lafayette and other chambers are expected to be leading charges in their own community,” Zanco said. “Lafayette is not going to lose representation. That’s not going to happen.”