Business Report

Mayor Kip Holden is defending his attendance on a four-day canvas trip last week to Panama with business and civic leaders from throughout the south Louisiana Super Region.

Holden has been criticized by some in the media and on the Metro Council in recent weeks for his jet-setting schedule, after keeping a low profile during a summer of crises at home. He traveled to Taiwan in late August while the city was still in the throes of flood recovery. After spending a week back in Baton Rouge, he hit the road again to deliver a speech in Baltimore about responding to disaster in Baton Rouge. Then, on Sept. 20 he departed for Panama, where he joined more than 100 others from south Louisiana on tours, seminars and meetings about investment opportunities and potential synergies between south Louisiana and Latin America.

Holden says the criticism is unwarranted and that the Panama trip was well worth it.

“We had business leaders from the entire Super Region—from Lafayette, New Orleans and Baton Rouge— and the opportunity to network with them was tremendous,” he says. “It was an opportunity to see how they’re doing things in Panama and to see what we have to do to make things better for us and so if someone has a problem then I’m sorry.”

The recent canvas trip—the ninth since the Baton Rouge Area Chamber began the canvas trips in 2008 and the fourth to include members from the Super Region—had far more attendees from the New Orleans area than from Baton Rouge. Still, local business leaders say the opportunity to spend time with colleagues from throughout the region in a different venue inspires new ideas and collaboration.

“The relationship to New Orleans and the Bayou Region that we were able to build over a few days was incredible,” says Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “One of the best things I’ve found about the canvas is that’s where new ideas come from—those sidebar conversations that you have when you’re hearing about someone else’s experiences.”

Canvas trip leaders say they chose Panama as this year’s destination because it has one of the world’s fastest growing economies and because the newly expanded Panama Canal opened earlier this year. Also, Copa Airlines began offering direct air service between New Orleans and Panama in February.