If Baton Rouge wants to evolve and grow, the business community must lead the way. That was the key takeaway of the civic and business leaders who traveled to Cincinnati for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Canvas Benchmarking Workshop.
It was a point made clear throughout a three-day visit to a city that’s seen its business community play a vital role over the past 25 years in revitalizing Cincinnati while getting diverse nonprofit agencies and local governments to buy into a vision for the future.
Coming from a city and a state where splintered groups and governments typically work in silos and at cross purposes competing for limited resources, the story of Cincinnati was instructive for the Baton Rouge group.
Working together with the business community in the lead has proven effective there in leveraging investments to solve blight, poor health outcomes, economic and racial disparity, and workforce training problems.
Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and others on the trip also say they’ve been struck by the business community’s recognition that investing in the city’s low-income population is not only a moral imperative but an economic development strategy.
“Their corporate elite has an enlightened vision as to their role in making this a better city,” says Edgardo Tenreiro, CEO of Baton Rouge General Medical Center. “It’s not government solving the problem but the private sector stepping in and solving issues that government can’t solve.”
Figuring out how Baton Rouge can emulate Cincinnati’s success is the real challenge, and it is noteworthy that few actual business owners or executives were on the trip. Many of the attendees, by contrast, were with nongovernmental organizations and nonprofit agencies.
“Sometimes these trips are great,” Tenreiro says. “But they’re also a little bit depressing because you realize we’re so far behind.”