BRAC attracts businesses of all sizes and industries under a common mission to lead economic development in the Capital Region. The Investor Insider blog series highlights the diversity of our investor base and how their work coincides with BRAC’s.
In this month’s blog post, we highlight milestones in the history of BRAC’s work and the importance of regional collaboration.
Beginning as a small volunteer effort, the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce was officially organized in 1923 and oversaw the development of City Park, the creation of the Community Chest Federation—the precursor to the Capital Area United Way—and planted the seeds to become a driving force for civic and economic progress in Baton Rouge.
At the onset of the Great Depression, the Chamber focused on creating a port district to ensure the development of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and served as an original sponsor of the Baton Rouge Airport. By the end of the decade, businesses in Baton Rouge saw an upswing in the economy with commercial building permits jumping to $1.1 million in 1937 and the major expansion of Standard Oil.
Baton Rouge’s population nearly doubled due to expanding industry following World War II, which led the Chamber to partner in the development of a 25–year City-Parish growth plan for an increasingly metropolitan Baton Rouge. Adopted in 1947, the organization became active in advocacy work by pushing for a national bowl game and Daylight Savings. Ted Dunham, the Chamber president, even made national news with a telegram to President Truman.
Baton Rouge’s metro-morphosis was in full effect as the city saw another exponential increase in population. To keep up with growth, the Chamber focused on expanding infrastructure and greater access to education. The Chamber began an annual program connecting educators to the needs of area businesses, while assisting the need for a deep-water port with the purchase of large tracts of land that would later become the Port of Greater Baton Rouge.
Economic growth saw no stopping as construction boomed. In 1964 alone, nine plants were announced, put under construction, or completed in Greater Baton Rouge. This boom ushered in a new age for transportation as the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Program began connecting two major thoroughfares, I-10 and I-12, that would create economic opportunities for the city.
Six local banks shared total assets exceeding $1 billion and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge rose to the fourth largest in the nation. The Chamber’s Capital Improvements Task Force worked to prioritize transportation projects and identify funding options to cater to the economic growth and 28 percent growth in population by 1979.
As a desegregation order in East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools was implemented, the Chamber was at the fore-front urging unity and cooperation. During this time, the Chamber also began a shift to a more community-oriented organization. This propelled the Chamber into a new era of regionalism to include the nine-parishes in its service area. The need to strengthen community assets saw the Foreign Trade Zone designation at the Port and the beginning of Leadership Greater Baton Rouge to cultivate talented community leaders.
A greater focus on economic development efforts for the region began with the establishment of the Greater Baton Rouge Economic Partnership, covering all aspects of economic growth from basic permitting assistance to international trade. Thousands of jobs were added during the decade with Baton Rouge becoming a hub for call centers and back-office operations due to its central location.
The Greater Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce began operating on five-year strategic plans. Considering its long history of catalytic activity around the region and the devastation caused by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the Chamber reorganized itself as the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. With a focus on transforming the Capital Region’s economy into the state’s economic driver, nearly 12,000 jobs were created over the decade.
Ever increasing collaboration between the nine parishes has allowed the Capital Region to tackle the big issues that affect us all. BRAC’s footprint can be seen throughout the nine-parish region from the widening of I10 in Ascension Parish to the $1.49 billion Shintech expansion in Iberville Parish. Strong parish partnerships and a sense of regionalism has allowed the Baton Rouge Area to actualize its vision to become “one of the leading economies and premier business locations in the country, growing and attracting talent with its unique culture, vibrant communities and beautiful spaces.”