The fifth class of the regional Leadership North program is set to begin March 19.

Although hosted by the Zachary Chamber of Commerce, with assistance from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development and LSU Agricultural Center, the program is open to those living in the north capital region, which includes Baton Rouge, Baker, Central, Zachary and people residing or working in the Felicianas and Pointe Coupee.

About 80 people have graduated the program since it began in 2011.

Set to begin its fifth class in March, the program includes five half-day sessions and two full days.

Participants represent a host of professional backgrounds. Through the program, emerging leaders from business and industry are engaged in exchanging viewpoints and experiences while being exposed to challenges, opportunities and issues affecting their communities and the region. Cost to attend the program is $500. Deadline to submit an application is Jan. 31.

Graduates of the program include Zachary Councilman Ben Cavin; Mayor Robbie Jackson, of Slaughter; and Tracy Bethley, former city of Zachary warehouse manager. The three were guest speakers at the Zachary Rotary Club’s Jan. 22 meeting.

“Not everyone who goes through the program comes out wanting to set the world on fire,” Cavin said. “But there are a few, who along the way, a switch is flipped and they want to make a change, make a difference. Participants have gone on to do some great things.”

Bethley, Cavin, Charmaine Efferson and Carla Sibille, also a graduate, worked together with other alumni to create the Leadership North Alumni Association in 2014, with Sibille leading the charge.

With a realized need for strengthening the pool of skilled workers available in the north capital region, Jackson said new life was breathed into the welding and machinist programs at Baton Rouge Community College in Jackson. Leadership alumnae Jon Craft of Anvil Attachments in Slaughter got involved and donated tools, equipment, expertise and man-hours to the machinists class, and the Alumni Association worked with the eight graduates to develop their resumés.

“East Feliciana doesn’t have a skilled workforce to pull from. There is a shortage of welders, electricians and machinists,” said Jackson. “Of the 65 percent who graduate from college, they go back into blue collar careers. If we could just catch that 65 percent before they choose four-year colleges or universities and steer them into classes like the ones at BRCC.”

Jackson said BRCC began another welding class in January, and the next machinists’ class starts in February.

“The first thing people ask is ‘what’s your workforce like?’” Jackson said. “Then they ask about housing, schools and churches. People are looking to invest in our community but this is a regional thing. This affects us all.”

As the Alumni Association’s Vice President, Bethley said the next project is a youth entrepreneurship program at Southern University.

“This program invites the next generation to come share their business ideas and plans and get assistance in developing those ideas,” said Bethley.

“Leadership North is a feeder program that has superb networking capabilities,” said Jackson. “It’s really great and everyone involved brings something to the table. It’s really amazing the relationships you build.” Jackson said because of Leadership North and the Alumni Association, he has gone on to volunteer with several projects, some that involve the town of Slaughter and neighboring communities like Zachary and West Feliciana. Another offshoot of Leadership North is the newly formed Feliciana Regional Business and Industry Council, which is set to meet at 6 p.m. Feb. 2 at Slaughter Town Hall, 3337 Church St.

For an application to join Leadership North, contact the Zachary Chamber of Commerce, 4633 Main St.; call (225) 654-6777 or email kate@zacharychamber.com.

For information about joining the Leadership North Alumni Association, email Sibille at carla.sibille@gmail.com or call (225) 235-9476.

To learn more about the Feliciana Regional Business and Industry Council, attend the meeting Feb. 2.