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Jerry Jones, right, executive director of the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District, speaks at The Advocate's 2020 Economic Outlook Summit in January, seated next to Baton Rouge Area Chamber CEO Adam Knapp.

After two years at the helm of the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District, the executive director of the organization is stepping down on Friday, which is before his contract expires on Dec. 31.

Jerry Jones Jr., a 37-year-old alumnus of Southern University, expects to formally resign on Thursday but gave his board of directors two-weeks notice. Jones will become an economic development executive in Richmond, Texas, a suburb of Houston, next week.

A Louisiana native, Jones said that years ago, he would have laughed at the thought of leaving his home state to continue his career, but the new opportunity in a locale with more administrative support and lower taxes was attractive. Jones, who has a decade of economic development experience and previously worked in St. John the Baptist Parish, was recruited for the Texas position by an executive search firm.

The executive director role of the Baton Rouge development district, otherwise known as IMPACT North Baton Rouge, paid $80,000 and the board of directors of the organization is expected to hire a replacement. Board members met on Wednesday to field questions about the resignation.

There are two potential undisclosed candidates who would be qualified to become the interim executive director. An interim director may be named on Thursday, likely to serve at least 90 days. If that doesn't happen, the board would likely recommend the chairman take over administrative duties without compensation until an interim director is voted upon.

"Our recommendation is that person doesn't simply have economic development experience but someone who has experience in organizational structure and developing policies and procedures," said Jaqueline Mims, chair of the board. 

The Baton Rouge North Economic Development District was created by the Louisiana Legislature in 2015 as a political subdivision of the state. But the organization was not funded by a slice of the hotel/motel taxes from area properties until several years later.

The 2% hotel and motel occupancy tax which supports the organization is only those within the boundaries of Florida Boulevard on the south; Mickens Road, Hooper Road and Harding Boulevard on the north; Scenic Highway on the west; and North Sherwood Forest Drive on the east.

As of July, there was $118,000 in tax dollars collected by the hotel and motel occupancy tax in the organization's fund, the most recent data available.

Jones is leaving the organization with it having received $250,000 as a one-time state allocation approved by the Legislature.

Jones said he would be willing to help the new executive with a transition and doesn't seek any additional compensation for consulting beyond accrued paid time off.

"I'll be here every weekend next year," he said. "I've been a season ticket holder for Southern football games for 10 years. I already have my hotel rooms set aside. I want to see this community win."

The organization began under Jones' his tenure without office space, but an office was donated by ExxonMobil. When concerns about the coronavirus pandemic subside, the organization is expected to move into the office.

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During his tenure, Jones created a strategic plan for the region, a foundation that has attracted $5,300 in donations and a facade and signage improvement program. In a collaboration with the city-parish and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the economic development officials saw 1,000 new jobs accounting for $60 million in new payroll — much of which was tied to the industrial sector before the coronavirus and economic recession began. That figure includes 85 jobs at the Oceans Behavioral Hospital.

Over the past two years, nearly 20 new small businesses opened in north Baton Rouge. A major economic development goal is to attract a grocery store to the area and the organization hired a national consulting firm to attract potential businesses.

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"We probably could have gotten three times more accomplished had there been a plan that all of the elected officials supported and desired to move forward on it on a unified front," Jones said. "This is not me beating up on them; when they come together the projects they have in mind are going to be amazing but they have to be able to come together."
 
Jones is also a board member of NexusLA, formerly known as the Research Park Corp., and sits on the board of BREC. 

Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.