South-central Louisiana’s business community Wednesday unveiled One Acadiana, a Lafayette-based agency that will lead economic development in nine parishes to draw more industry, train workers and speak to Washington and Baton Rouge with greater clout.
“One Acadiana will deliver a new, highly professional, nationally competitive economic development program for the region, which will help manage Acadiana’s current and longterm growth, retain and grow current business and diversify the economic base by attracting new growth sectors and professional talent,” said Jason El Koubi, president and chief executive of One Acadiana.
The new organization’s geographic region is the parishes of Lafayette, Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary and Vermilion. El Koubi said members of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce automatically became One Acadiana members Jan. 1. Chambers of commerce and other business-oriented groups in the other eight parishes will continue to operate independently, and most also have pledged to work with One Acadiana.
El Koubi was joined Wednesday by some of the 80 people who make up One Acadiana’s board of directors. They gathered at the old Chamber of Commerce offices on East St. Mary Boulevard to announce the agency’s new name.
El Koubi was hired to lead the Greater Lafayette Chamber in September 2013. He said last year that he spent his first three months on the job gauging what chamber members wanted, and found support for regional economic efforts among small and large businesses.
In 2014, El Koubi and supporters started the “Campaign for One Acadiana” and gathered supporters as the year turned to 2015. On Sunday the chamber announced it had met its fundraising goal of $15 million to operate what would become One Acadiana over five years.
Businesses signed up with membership dues that were tiered by dollar amounts and access to clout: A commitment of $100,000 or more a year for five years got a company on the CEO Advisory Council. The 10 companies and organizations at this level include The Lemoine Company, Stuller, and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. One of the advisory council’s privileges is appointing a person to the Executive Committee.
Those at the Chairman’s Circle pledged $50,000 to $99,999, including The Moody Company-Louisiana State Newspapers, Fenstermaker and The Daily Advertiser, three of the 15 companies at that level.
Next is the President’s Circle, which commanded contributions of $25,000 to $49,999 a year. Forty-two companies signed up, including KATC Communications and Knight Oil Tools.
At the Director’s Circle’s $10,000 to $24,999 tier, 16 companies including The Acadiana Advocate, Baldwin Redi-Mix and Lafayette Surgical Specialty Hospital.
And 52 companies pledged $2,500 to $9,999 for each of the next five years to become a member of the Ambassador’s Circle.
Joseph Zanco, chief financial officer for Home Bank, was named chairman of One Acadiana’s 80-person board of directors. He said One Acadiana is emerging at the right time.
“When we started down this path things were good,” Zanco said, referring to the economic climate in south Louisiana during much of 2014, when he and others combed the nine parishes to whip up support.
The last half of 2014 saw a dramatic fall in the price of oil, which is the main economic driver in One Acadiana’s nine parishes. Though there have been no mass layoffs and company failures so far, the spectre of the mid-1980s oil crash remains.
Ten employees from the old Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce will work for One Acadiana. El Koubi said he and the board plan to hire 12 more people. Current staff members and the new hires will continue to work in leased offices in Lafayette’s Oil Center.
El Koubi said the agency would develop a public policy and advocacy team, and also hire an industrial site development expert.