BRAC releases new five-year economic development plan to improve traffic, local image

The Daily Reveille

By 2021, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber hopes to relieve the city’s traffic congestion and give its image a facelift, according to its new five-year regional strategic plan released last Tuesday.

The “Think Bigger” campaign seeks to address four key goals: grow and diversify Baton Rouge’s economy, cultivate the region’s talent, transform the area’s quality of life and elevate the region’s external image.

BRAC Senior Vice President of Marketing Ansley Zehnder said the goals are all of “equal importance.”

She said the final plan is the product of many months of work and is based on a variety of primary and secondary research. In addition to a broadband survey of BRAC’s 1,400-member investor base, she said a committee of 35 executives from the nine-parish region conducted third-party research into peer cities.

“The culmination of all of that work helped us to identify the four goals that you see in the new plan,” Zehnder said.

Though BRAC has only existed as a regional economic development organization for the past decade, Zehnder said this is the third five-year plan the group has developed.

BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp said in a media release that BRAC acknowledged the “tremendous strides” the region made in the last five years. Zehnder said companies announced more than 1,600 new jobs in the region in 2015, representing approximately $128 millionin capital investments.

“The Think Bigger campaign was born out of collective recognition that we aspire to be even stronger as a growth economy and an attractive place to live and to work,” Knapp said in the media release.

The campaign will also work to implement eight cornerstone initiatives: developing a permanent solution to the I-10 problem, pursuing public education reform at the PK-12 level, creating a world-class existing business program, promoting the Water Campus, executing a formal talent development program, forming a full medical school in the region, establishing a unified external image strategy and improving the region’s physical attractiveness.

Aside from policy reforms that enhance quality of life and economic competitiveness, Zehnder said BRAC identified transportation and traffic as major indicators of quality of life.

“Traffic is an issue that impedes our economic growth because it affects employers’ abilities to move goods and workers in and out of the region in an expeditious manner,” Zehnder said.

Photography sophomore Maddie Cahill said the congestion causes her to run late to chapter meetings at the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house from her Campus Crossings Brightside apartment.

“It’s very annoying,” Cahill said.

BRAC launched the CRISIS Coalition in 2015 to identify prioritization aimed at solving the “traffic crisis,” urging all four former gubernatorial candidates to create solutions to relieve congestion around the “Baton Rouge Bottleneck” near I-10. Zehnder said the organization hopes to further enhance the goal within the next five years.

She said BRAC’s leadership role in the CRISIS Coalition, along with the Center for Planning Excellence and the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance, would allow for the most cost-effective traffic relief measures.

A city’s quality of life determines whether or not companies choose to locate their businesses there, Zehnder said. Besides minimal traffic, she said “quality of life” boils down to an area’s physical beauty, access to quality education and economic competitiveness.

Civil engineering junior Jeff Sturcke said he thinks the area just off of LSU’s campus could use some physical improvements.

“I think the campus looks really good, but I think everywhere around the campus looks pretty bad,” Sturcke said. “There’s a lot of violence out there.”

To sharpen Baton Rouge’s competitive edge, BRAC hopes to develop a full, four-year medical school for the area, according to the document. With the number of healthcare professionals employed in the capital region, Zehnder said BRAC believes that a complete medical school would leverage the area’s distinctive assets with the health district and capitalize on the healthcare industry.

“We believe that’s the next natural progression,” she said.

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