Advocate staff photo by STACY GILL -- Kate MacArthur is the economic development director for both the city of Zachary and Chamber of Commerce. MacArthur provided an update on businesses, the local economy and what's coming in 2015 at a December Zachary Rotary club meeting where she was the guest speaker.

Kate MacArthur serves in a dual capacity as both economic development director for the city of Zachary and the Zachary Chamber of Commerce.

MacArthur’s job for both entities — to recruit and retain commercial, industrial and retail businesses into the Zachary area — has been a busy one since she took on the positions in 2012.

Besides attracting new commerce, MacArthur places an emphasis on workforce development and cultivating development-ready sites such as industrial, professional headquarters, and research and development sites.

The future, she says, is built on creating new capital investment and good-paying jobs for Zachary residents.

“When you look at the population from 1980 to 2014, Zachary is one of the fastest-growing cities in Louisiana, so we need to have someone steering growth and attracting the businesses we want and need, though the two don’t always go hand in hand,” said MacArthur.

In 2014, more than 40 people inquired about opening a business in Zachary, though it may take up to three years from the first inquiry to the time a business opens.

MacArthur’s focus is a balancing act of promoting more commercial growth and supporting the growth of more rooftops. Retail and service businesses are examining rooftop and traffic counts when evaluating their next location.

Expanding existing businesses and attracting new ones are the smart way to stimulate economic growth, not by building more neighborhoods. Otherwise, a strain is put upon infrastructure, MacArthur said.

“Fortunately, over the last few years, Zachary has done well with expanding roads and utilities by envisioning the city’s future needs, as infrastructure is vital to the attraction of businesses and residents,” MacArthur said. “It’s a double-edged sword, but the key is determining what businesses are demanding versus what the city and residents are willing to give in return. I have to look at what the community can support, what we’re lacking, what we’re needing, and what revenues we can anticipate for our city to have a solid future.”

One of the biggest challenges of recruiting new business is preventing an anti-development mind set when it comes to economic growth, she said.

“We don’t want to convey the wrong message to national businesses or developers attempting to relocate here with a ‘not in my backyard’ attitude, though it’s not uncommon for some to convey that message indirectly or even intentionally,” MacArthur said.

Ideally, the emphasis should be on smart growth, which supports mixed land uses by putting residential, commercial and recreational in close proximity to one another and by offering alternatives to driving, such as biking or walking, to help revitalize community life.

In 2013, a consulting firm was hired and determined there are more than 117,000 people eating, shopping and using health care services in Zachary, which has a population of more than 15,500. The study showed that about $597 million is leaving the city in annual retail sales from local consumers shopping for goods and services outside the city but within its trade areas, Mac-Arthur said.

Examples of the retail areas where Zachary is losing dollars are sporting goods, standalone restaurants, men’s clothing, shoe stores, home goods and wares, and family entertainment, according to the study.

“We’re losing those retail sales tax dollars to Baton Rouge and Internet retailers and must learn that expanding our local economy is at the heart of economic development,” MacArthur said. “In order to do this, sometimes you have to accept a business you don’t believe you would shop in, but that would attract other consumers, in order to get the retailers you do want located here.”

Of the businesses she could discuss, MacArthur provided a snapshot for 2015: a Comfort Inn is being built next to the Youth Park; a Zaxby’s restaurant is coming to Main Street (across from Wal-Mart); and a Walk-Ons sports bar/restaurant will be constructed inside Americana, the latter planned around August.

In terms of smart growth, MacArthur asks the Zachary community to keep an open mind.

“Think about the things that are best for future generations. It’s great that we have the No. 1 school system, but are we able to provide family entertainment during school-age years and then full-time, high-paying positions for our graduates,” MacArthur said. “As a city, if you don’t accept change and continue to grow, you will slowly start to die.”

To speak to MacArthur or inquire about new business opportunities, email or call the Zachary Chamber at (225) 654-6777.