LAFAYETTE — Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret told businesspeople from nine Acadiana parishes Wednesday that south-central Louisiana has only a few sites with enough acreage to draw interest from national companies looking to relocate.
Meanwhile, there are 33 to 43 sites with 200 acres or more available for development in areas around Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where multiparish, regional chambers of commerce have made it a point to have sites available, Moret said.
Moret spoke at the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon for the Campaign for One Acadiana, an initiative to create a super-regional chamber. Hundreds of people representing businesses, chambers of commerce and other economic development organizations attended the event, which was held at the Cajundome Convention Center.
“There is huge untapped potential” in Acadiana, said Moret, who once ran the nine-parish Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “I have never been more excited about the future of this region.”
Jason El Koubi, who for 10 years worked for Moret at BRAC and LED, was hired in September 2013 to head up the Lafayette chamber. El Koubi spent his first three months on the job in Lafayette listening to businesspeople in the region.
“Nearly everyone I’ve talked to believes passionately in a regional approach,” El Koubi said Wednesday.
In early 2014, he started talking to groups in all the parishes about the benefits of becoming a bigger chamber, with more clout, more land, more seaports, more legislative and congressional punch. Operating with such strength, El Koubi said, would lead to companies locating here and more success in getting expensive but critical infrastructure built, such as Interstate 49 South to New Orleans.
The regional chamber, which so far has not been named, becomes real on Jan. 1. It will include the parishes of Lafayette, Jefferson Davis, Acadia, Evangeline, St. Landry, Vermilion, St. Martin, St. Mary and Iberia.
Julie Dronet-Simon, chairwoman of the Lafayette chamber and director of operations at Cox Acadiana, said many of the companies in the nine parishes already take a regional view in business.
David Callecod, head of Lafayette General Health Systems, said his company for years has taken the long, nonprovincial view.
“Our approach to regionalism has led to us tripling in size over the last several years,” Callecod said.
On Wedneday, there was no dissension in the luncheon crowd to the Lafayette chamber’s plans.
To fund the super chamber, the Lafayette chamber started the Campaign for One Acadiana, which sought contributions from businesses that pledged the same amount annually for five years. The goal is to raise $15 million to fund the regional chamber through 2019.
Jim Prince, a former Stone Energy executive who is now retired and spearheading fundraising, said the chamber effort needs $3 million a year. So far, businesses have contributed $2 million, two-thirds of what’s needed, for 2015.
Businesses that make the multiyear commitments will do so at different funding levels that bring varying levels of clout. Those that pledge $100,000 or more each year — the CEO Advisory Council — will have the best perks and most input into chamber business.
Four other levels range from $2,500 a year, the Ambassador’s Circle, to $99,000 a year, which includes the Chairman’s Circle.