Here’s how local business groups look to spend $2 million in COVID-19 relief money

The Advocate

BRAC and Visit Baton Rouge are expected to each receive a $1 million federal grant from the city-parish to support economic development and tourism.

The $2 million is coming from the $73 million allocated to East Baton Rouge through the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Baton Rouge metro council is holding a public hearing about the budget for the federal funding on Oct. 27. It was not clear exactly when the money would be released but it must be spent by the end of 2026. 

The money has not yet been distributed yet so it’s early in the process but the leader of Visit Baton Rouge is interested in attracting more tourists. 

“The industry has been hit very hard and we’re not sure when the industry will rebound to where it was in 2019,” said Paul Arrigo, CEO of Visit Baton Rouge. 

Visit Baton Rouge’s annual budget is between $5 million and $7 million so a one-time cash influx is a sizable chunk. 

Early predictions during the coronavirus pandemic was that there wouldn’t be meaningful recovery until 2025. 

“We have rebounded particularly with leisure travel because people had stimulus money,” Arrigo said. “Every destination is receiving a certain amount so we’re competing with them.”

Arrigo said Visit Baton Rouge is in the beginning stages of determining what it will do with the money. In general, the organization wants to increase the number of travelers through advertising, first those within driving distance of Baton Rouge, then the larger domestic market and eventually the international market once again. Visit Baton Rouge wants to draw more outdoor sporting events which brought in crowds during the pandemic. 

BRAC expects to work with Visit Baton Rouge on a plan to entice more people to move to the market and help unemployed residents get back in the workforce.

“Talent shortages are real,” said Adam Knapp, CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. 

There are more than 30,000 job openings in Baton Rouge even though there are 20,000 fewer jobs in the market than before the pandemic, Knapp said. 

“These dollars will help address an enormous need and opportunity that benefits everyone in the parish,” Knapp said. 

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