West Feliciana Parish Economic Development Director Bettsie Norton had two objectives for the strategic planning retreat she facilitated Nov. 7 at The Bluffs.

First, she wanted key stakeholders from the parish community to participate in the planning session so they could have legitimate buy-in, and secondly, she wanted a cohesive plan to use as a framework to develop going into 2015.

Besides a cross-section of parish government officials led by Parish President Kevin Couhig, participating in the retreat were members of various parish boards and business and education leaders.

Also on hand were Skip Smart and Pat Witty of Louisiana Economic Development who provided a community competitiveness presentation.

“Community development is a product that supports business development,” said Smart, LED’s director of Community Competitiveness. “You have to develop that product to attract business investment. It’s critical elected officials and community leaders come together.”

Smart said it’s also important for a community to understand its strengths and weaknesses.

“Do you have a good visiting business retention program? That’s vital,” he said. “You have to develop clear community goals for effective economic development.”

Witty, who is director of Community Competitiveness and Small Business Services for LED, focused on community competitiveness and the importance of knowing target customers, prospective businesses and knowing the product — the community.

“You have to make folks understand what you have to offer them, what you are and what you are not,” Witty said. He also encouraged those present to explore available federal, state and regional resources that can be leveraged with the parish’s resources.

Couhig, who has an extensive history of business and economic development, said it’s vital to “sit down with experts like this and create a plan,” he said. “This is how it’s done. Assessment is at the core of it. You have to have buy-in to what we are all trying to accomplish.”

Later, the group worked up a list of priorities necessary for economic development specific to West Feliciana. The action plan formulated included five key strategies for Norton to develop in the short term:

  • Create an economic development plan by Jan. 1
  • An inventory of existing sites and buildings in the parish suitable for attracting businesses
  • A list of infrastructure projects for capital outlay planning
  • An inventory of the parish’s unique selling points
  • A list of ways the parish can be competitive — what’s being done right or wrong

Five more points for the plan are going to be developed with a long-term focus.

They include:

  • Promotional collateral, meaning ways the parish can promote itself like a portal website
  • Informational packets that provide “a one-stop shop” for prospective new businesses
  • A consistent marketing plan with one message
  • A parish-wide, long-term economic development plan by June 1, 2015
  • Ways to develop a work force and labor force to supply businesses

“This will show us where we are in terms of economic development competitiveness,” Norton said, who was hired in September to direct the parish’s economic development and business expansion efforts. “It will provide an outline of where to go from here.”