Business Report

A new Mississippi River Bridge and improving community relations are this year’s two major priorities for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, CEO Adam Knapp said today at a Press Club luncheon.

With voters approving the MovEBR roads tax plan last winter, along with most of the funding identified for the expansion of Interstate 10 through Baton  Rouge, Knapp says next up is building a new bridge across the Mississippi River. In fact, he says, the bridge should have been completed decades ago.

“It’s 1,000 percent clear to everyone in the region that building a new south bridge is the top transportation priority and possibly the top economic development priority for our nine-parish area going forward,” Knapp said.

The key to actually getting it done—other than money—says Knapp is political alignment and unity of purpose among the region’s parishes.

“It’s real and it’s coming, it’s just a matter of leadership and we have a lot moving in the right direction.”

BRAC will also continue its focus on race, quality of place and community developmen, with the group’s business development team focusing on site certification this year, especially for manufacturing and industrial sites in north Baton Rouge. BRAC will also work to support the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority in its initiative to revitalize Plank Road.

On the industrial front, Knapp called the pending layoffs by Georgia-Pacific, BASF and Thompson Pipe Group a “humbling” way for East Baton Rouge Parish to start the new year. Still, he says, it’s too narrow to focus on the local impact of the layoffs, suggesting people look at the issue as a regional problem.

“Regionalism, which we have expounded on as a philosophy at BRAC as a nine-parish organization, can not only help us be stronger as an economic development community but it can help cushion us when we experienced earlier January (with the layoffs),” Knapp said.