As we look forward to the new year with much anticipation, I want to share a short summary of the outcomes from this year. It’s been a remarkably positive year for the Baton Rouge Area economy. Our BRAC team and regional private and public allies have been intently focused on supporting a full economic recovery as soon as possible. Our team had a dual agenda this year: on one hand, to meet the moment for economic recovery, while on the other, pursuing key projects that would lay a foundation for the future. Here’s a brief summary of the economic development year that was 2021:
- Landed 17 business development announcements in collaboration with regional parish leadership and economic development staff, including new business entries to the market or expansions of existing businesses, representing 1,800 new direct jobs and $8 billion in capital investment. This includes unanimous approval for a critical ExxonMobil modernization, the redevelopment of the Cortana Mall into an Amazon logistics hub, new software development jobs, and renewable and transitional energy projects like Air Products and commercial solar developments;
- Advocated for state funding of $300 million more annually in transportation dollars, and passage of the federal bipartisan infrastructure package, both of which should provide sufficient funds for a new Baton Rouge Mississippi River bridge and bypass connectors;
- Partnered on successful statewide efforts to pass a tax reform election to lower corporate and individual tax rates across Louisiana, a tax reform package heralded by a Wall Street Journal editorial as making Louisiana “more attractive for business investment;”
- Partnered with the SoLA Super Region Committee (a collaboration with GNO, Inc.) to secure a public commitment from Canadian Pacific to pursue passenger rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans after they complete acquisition of Kansas City Southern, expected in late 2022;
- Created two North Baton Rouge economic development districts to accelerate investment and growth in underserved and disinvested communities in partnership with Mayor-President Broome, Build Baton Rouge, North Baton Rouge Economic Development District, the Baton Rouge Legislative delegation, and EBR Metro Council;
- Secured $1 million from the EDA with TruFund to launch the region’s first perpetually revolving loan fund for women and minority owned small businesses;
- Unified all Capital Region traditional two- and four-year higher ed institutions on the Handshake platform, making recruitment of all college students easier than ever for regional businesses, and becoming the first region in the United States to accomplish this;
- Increased litter fines in East Baton Rouge with a stricter parish ordinance, in collaboration with the EBR Metro Council and author of the ordinance, Mayor Pro-Temp Lamont Cole;
- Secured 75 national media placements on positive Baton Rouge storylines, totaling over 620,000 impressions, to increase awareness and positive perception of the region;
- Contributed to two short-listed major EDA grant applications for the Baton Rouge Area for life sciences and transitional energy;
- Completed a new, five-year regional strategic plan with Ernst & Young and successfully fundraised to execute it.
Fueled by these economic development results, we were also happy to report a strong forecast for next year in BRAC’s Economic Outlook for 2022, released in early December, including:
- Full economic recovery for jobs by 2023;
- Unemployment below pre-pandemic levels, dropping to 3.5% for November, below both the state and national averages;
- A second year of net-positive regional population in-migration, and census data showing the region at 850,000 residents, the 66th largest region in the US;
- Area college enrollment reached a record 55,000 students across all four-year and two-year institutions;
- Over 44,000 posted job openings seeking applicants in the region, as of November;
- Full recovery of hotel occupancy and revenues in the hospitality sector, and continued consumer confidence shown through higher sales tax receipts;
- 63% of businesses expect revenues to increase in 2022, and 43% expect their employment to grow during that time.
BRAC will unveil its new, five-year regional strategic plan at a campaign launch event on February 3, 2022, at Electric Depot. Tickets and more information are available at brac.org/events.
Stay safe, say No-micron to Omicron, and thanks for your continued investment and support for regional economic development.
Adam Knapp is president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. Knapp oversees all activities at BRAC and guides the strategic vision for the organization.