CENTRAL — As a city that gets its money for its general operations budget from sales tax — not property tax — economic development in Central is a big issue, Mayor Shelton “Mac” Watts said.
In late May, Central was chosen as one of eight cities in the state to take part in Louisiana Economic Development’s Louisiana Development Ready Communities Program.
The program helps cities develop a five-year strategic plan for economic development that includes getting public and business input into what the city’s residents would like to see, said Skip Smart, director of community development with LED.
The multiyear process starts out with six to eight months of planning and gathering information, and public comment. That information is then developed into a five-year strategic plan that includes a vision for what the city would like to see in 10 years, Smart said.
In Central, residents and businesses will soon be asked to fill out an online survey that will help provide information for that process, and they’ll be asked their opinion on future economic development during town hall meetings later in July.
“What are their aspirations for their community,” Smart said. “A community might not want to be a community that wants heavy industry.”
Instead, communities may decide they want to focus on tourism or be retiree communities, Smart said.
“It’s a process by which the community decides what it wants to do,” Smart said.
Steve Vassallo, the economic development consultant for Central, said he will be working within the Louisiana Development Ready Communities Program, which he describes as a good way to get city residents behind what will end up in the strategic plan.
After the survey and the town hall meetings, the focus will be on coming up with a mission statement, and then getting to work on a five-year strategic plan, which should be completed by this fall, he said.
“All aspects of economic development will be addressed in this,” Vassallo said, including housing, education, infrastructure, utility needs and more. “It’s a very methodical approach.”
Although the planning isn’t about finding a way to get a specific business located to Central, there will be discussions about attracting retail.
“The only way the city can function and grow is through sales tax, and that’s retail,” Vassallo said.
It’s a continuation of work the city leadership said they’ve been doing in trying to attract more and more varied retail to the city and will help inform the city about whether it needs to change directions.
“We’re not interested in smokestack (industry) in Central, but we are interested in education and technology,” Watts said.
“So that’s why we’re pursuing talks with a number of community colleges and with groups like Our Lady of the Lake nursing school to try to bring some of that to Central,” he said.
“I’m an advocate of the dual diploma,” he added. “There are some young people who don’t want to go to college directly from high school, but to do that students need a skill set they can use to make a living.”
One issue the city faces is infrastructure needs, Watts said, which is something the strategic planning will need to address.
“A lot of businesses aren’t going to come where there is a two-lane highway,” Watts said.
However, needs in the city include restaurants, a department store, clothing stores and entertainment options like a movie theater or bowling alley, he said.
There is development going on in the city, such as the new CVS Pharmacy being built at Wax and Sullivan roads, and Louis DeAngelo’s Italian Restaurant is going to be built on Sullivan Road, Watts said.
However, with almost a 50 percent sales leakage in the city — people going out of the city to shop — there is a need for more choices within the city limits, he said.