BRAC learns a lesson about region’s outside perception after losing major project

Business Report

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since original publication to include additional information comment from Adam Knapp, BRAC president and CEO.

In late 2014, a Fortune 500 steel research and development company crossed Baton Rouge off its short list of prospective locations for a planned project. Its management team, in charge of the project, did not want to move to the community.

The reason: outsiders’ perception of Baton Rouge. While Knapp said he does not know what exactly played into the company’s decision, the consultant told Knapp and others that if Baton Rouge had been a better known city like Raleigh, North Carolina, then the company would have visited. The company never sent any representatives to Baton Rouge, Knapp said.

The loss of that project, which Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, called a “game-changer” along the lines of IBM, was a “slap in the face.”

It simply came down to the city’s external public perception, the consultant told city and state leaders.

“It was about the idea that they had about Baton Rouge, more than the facts they had about Baton Rouge,” Knapp told members of the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge today at its weekly meeting.

Knapp relayed the story to the Rotarians today at the beginning of his 30-minute presentation on BRAC’s five-year strategic plan, dubbed “Think Bigger.”

Knapp has been making the rounds the past few weeks to various groups in Baton Rouge, touting the plan and encouraging the business community to do what it can to help BRAC reach its goals.

One of the four major goals is to bolster the region’s external image. BRAC plans to articulate the area’s value to businesses and talent, executing a sustained media relations strategy and advancing formal super region efforts.

In an interview after the presentation, Knapp said BRAC officials learned a huge lesson by losing out on the project. He said the chamber focused that lesson into ideas to bolster that public perception and image that are included in the five-year plan.

Knapp declined to name the company that passed over the city. He said he’s not sure which city the company chose, but thinks the final two cities were in the Midwest.

Business officials, he added, had known about Baton Rouge’s perception outside the city and state, but did not believe that perception was bad enough to deter people and companies from moving to the Capital City. Early indications from the unnamed company seemed positive, he said.

The consultant assisting the unnamed company with its search had told Knapp the state’s incentive package was the best the company was offered. Baton Rouge had fit the request for proposals better than the other cities.

The company also was looking for a city that offered major visibility, which Baton Rouge could have offered with land along Interstate 10. It also wanted to be in a city with a major engineering university with which it could partner, like LSU. Still it wasn’t enough.

“It’s worth thinking about what that means for how we take economic development in the Baton Rouge area from the level we are at today to the next level,” Knapp said.

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