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Looking south on Third Street, the majority of the downtown area sits empty, Saturday, May 9, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber outlined its goals Monday for 2021, which spanned from local businesses' economic recovery to promoting diversity and inclusion in the region. 

The organization had paused its five-year economic strategy plan when the coronavirus pandemic began, focusing all of its employees on recovery efforts for the past 10 months. Now it looks to continue promoting business development and recovery, retain college graduates, focus on north Baton Rouge development and support the new Mississippi River bridge project. 

Unlike after natural disasters when the storm is short-lived, the lingering coronavirus pandemic and public health restrictions make it more difficult for the community to rebound together. 

"It's very hard to sustain that sense of crisis response through a pandemic," said Adam Knapp, chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. 

Promoting business recovery this year is a major key. 

Small business revenue was down 36.4% across Louisiana in late December compared to January 2020. During the same time frame, revenue was down 24.7% in East Baton Rouge Parish, 34.6% in Livingston and 15.3% in Ascension, according to Opportunity Insights data. 

"These are concerning indicators heading into this year," Knapp said. 

One resource for business is the federal Paycheck Protection Program, offering forgivable loans of up to $2 million for borrowers with existing loans. Applications are being accepted as of Monday for the third round of the program, starting with new borrowers through community financial institutions — opening later for banks and all businesses. 

BRAC expects to conduct more research into the Baton Rouge economy this year and how it compares to peer markets to develop its strategy. Reducing unemployment was another goal through matching job seekers with open positions, but also through short-term certification training for high-demand careers. The region has gained back 35,000 jobs lost since April. 

"We have already been able to rebound but we are still missing 15,000 to 20,000 jobs," Knapp said. 

The organization looks to hire someone to lead diversity and inclusion efforts. Those include attracting more businesses to north Baton Rouge and adding more local employers to the Baton Rouge Procurement Opportunity Partnership and connecting businesses to Dialogue on Race Louisiana.


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.