Longing for robust economic investment and growth, north Baton Rouge residents reiterated their desires for more businesses, better jobs and economic opportunities in their community during a Town Hall meeting held Thursday evening.
A standing-room-only crowd packed into a second floor room at The Offices at Champion Medical Center on Howell Place Boulevard, not far from the Baton Rouge Metro Airport.
They were there to hear and pose questions to a panel of community, government and business leaders who discussed contentious issues such as the possible relocation of the BREC Baton Rouge Zoo and the lack of emergency care access in north Baton Rouge. Gary Chambers moderated the discussion among the panel, which included representatives from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, airport, zoo and others.
Much of the discussion centered around economic development and how to uplift the area economically to close income disparities in the city-parish.
State Sen. Regina Barrow said she has long been told businesses would not move the north Baton Rouge community because of crime. But she challenged that notion, saying the creation of economic opportunities would bring more development.
“What comes first, the chicken or the egg?,” Barrow asked. “The reason we may have higher crime in our community is because there are no opportunities in our community.”
Barrow added: “Everything that exists on the southside of town, we want it on the north side of the town. I don’t like the fact that I have to drive five or 10 miles to go to a grocery store in my community.”
In some instances, people in north Baton Rouge don’t have access to bus lines that will take them a grocery store, she said. Transportation, education and economic development are all tied together, Barrow said, adding there are resources in north Baton Rouge to aid economic development.
She and others on the panel said small strides have been in north Baton Rouge, but they stressed more needs to be done. BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp agreed.
“The community doesn’t have to wait,” he said.
While investment is occurring across communities, there are strategies to improve neighborhoods and make sure businesses investment is available, Knapp said. Still, he emphasized the need for stakeholders to unite around a common strategy to attract investment and utilize existing economic assets.
“You can go after it today even while going after targeted improvements like grocery stores,” he said.