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Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC), speaks at the lectern during the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) committee meeting concerning a tax exemption for the Exxon Plastics Plant on Monday, March 26, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber said pushing for a new Mississippi River Bridge and pursuing redevelopment of north Baton Rouge are among its four main priorities for 2019. 

The chamber outlined the priorities as part of its 2019 strategic plan, which is a part of its five-year regional plan. It also outlined major accomplishments in 2018. 

The four main priorities for 2019 are: 

  • "Push forward on a new Mississippi River Bridge and the region's transportation agenda. 
  • Secure reforms to blight laws that negatively affect quality of place.
  • Engage in north Baton Rouge redevelopment and business development practices. 
  • Launch an initiative targeted at attracting and growing companies in sectors complementary to the region's competitive advantages."

BRAC, which has battled against advocacy group Together Baton Rouge and teachers unions over the need for tax breaks for manufacturers, said it will also "continue to defend the area's business climate by pressing for predictability and stability in the Industrial Tax Exemption Program." 

The organization also touted 2018's "notable outcomes," including nearly $1.5 billion in new infrastructure funding, expanded internship programs and 63 tours for executives considering relocating to the Baton Rouge area. 

Also, BRAC said its "local approval process" developed for the ITEP program led to 100 percent approval of those tax breaks in West Feliciana, East Feliciana, West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Ascension parishes. The ITEP program has been a major source of contention in Baton Rouge, with teachers and Together Baton Rouge successfully thwarting ExxonMobil from landing two tax breaks recently, setting off a backlash from industry.

BRAC completed 15 projects in 2018, accounting for more than 1,000 jobs, $1.6 billion in capital investment and $55 million in payroll. Eight of those projects represented expansions, with a "retained job count" of 1,524. 

"2018 saw exciting traction among many of BRAC’s priorities, most notably those related to alleviating traffic congestion — the top concern among business leaders for the last three years,” Adam Knapp, president and CEO of BRAC, said in a statement. “Change of that scale takes focus and sustained effort on the part of the region’s business community, and a dedicated and talented team of economic development professionals."

Other 2018 accomplishments include cutting the ribbon on a new BRAC headquarters, securing 53 "positive national media placements" featuring Baton Rouge and helping create the Capital Area Road and Bridge District, allowing five parishes in the region to seek funding for a new Mississippi River bridge. 

Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.