Baton Rouge business leaders, elected officials headed to Panama this morning for economic development trip

Business Report

More than 100 business and civic leaders from south Louisiana departed for Panama early this morning for a four-day Super Region Canvas trip, where they are expected to learn about trade, economic development opportunities, education and environmental issues in the Central American nation-state.

This is the first international Super Region Canvas since the trips began in 2008, when the Baton Rouge Area Chamber led a much smaller group to Austin, Texas.

Over the years, the canvas trips have grown, helping to spawn ideas and forge relationships, says BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp.

In more recent years—since the area comprising the New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Bayou regions has come together as a cohesive and organized group—the trip has helped bring the Super Region closer together.

“The lessons we have learned on these trips over the years has sparked many ideas,” Knapp says. “But it’s the networking and the opportunity to spend time with business leaders from around the region that has been so valuable.”

Panama, a vibrant and growing country, is roughly the same size as the Super Region and grapples with issues of vast economic disparity and environmental sustainability, much like south Louisiana. That’s one reason the Super Region committee picked Panama as the destination for this year’s trip.

The enhanced trade opportunities that the expanded Panama Canal affords area businesses are another reason, GNO Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht says. Also, Copa Airlines began offering direct services between New Orleans and Panama last year.

“We wanted to showcase that and build awareness about it,” he says.

Among those from Baton Rouge attending the trip are: Mayor Kip Holden, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board President Barbara Freiberg, Center for Planning Excellence President Boo Thomas, Visit Baton Rouge President Paul Arrigo, Forte and Tablada President Ann Trappey, and attorney and developer Danny McGlynn.

Freiberg, who is paying her own way for the trip, says she has attended the canvas trips for the past several years and has found them useful for several reasons.

“I go to learn about economic development and education,” she says. “But it’s also valuable to meet a network and share best practices with people in this region.”

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