InterCity Visit

Members of the Jefferson Chamber recently visited Nashville to benchmark a comparable region
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In June 2021, a diverse delegation of leaders from our region’s public, private and nonprofit sectors met with and learned from their counterparts in Nashville. The purpose of the trip was to observe the business market and community of Nashville and surrounding areas (the city of Franklin, and Williamson and Rutherford counties), in addition to networking with peers. 

“It was an incredible opportunity to learn about these other communities and some of the innovative ideas they are implementing to give their counties an edge,” says Cynthia Lee Sheng, Jefferson Parish President. “The trip included sessions on regional branding and economic development, infrastructure development, public education and public-private partnerships.”

Amanda Hoerner, vice president of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, was on the planning team for the inaugural InterCity Trip, along with her co-worker, Alex Zarookian, past director of investor relations and special events, and outgoing Jefferson Chamber President, Todd Murphy. “Our team was excited to offer a new event that stayed true to our mission and included an agenda of relevant content specific to our region, with the potential to create positive change,” Hoerner says.

The Jefferson Chamber brought 45 delegates on the trip, representing a wide spectrum of local leadership in Jefferson Parish: the parish president, council members, the superintendent of Jefferson Parish Public Schools, JEDCO, the Port of New Orleans, community organizations, CEOs of major hospital systems and banks, business leaders and entrepreneurs throughout the Greater New Orleans region. The Jefferson Chamber also prepared a demographic comparison guide between the Tennessee communities included on the trip and Jefferson and Orleans parishes, which helped attendees understand how both regions statistically compared in areas such as economic overview, housing and affordability, health and livability, public schools and workforce.

The sessions in Franklin included speakers from the local Chamber of Commerce on building a regional brand while identifying what sets the City of Franklin apart from Nashville. “Franklin’s city manager, planning director, parks director and private partners spoke about the partnerships that have helped city projects (such as implementing the Parks Master Plan) and how zoning plays a role in establishing connectivity between private and public space,” Sheng says. 

Then, in Rutherford County, attendees met at the Chamber of Commerce office for a session led by the city manager and the planning director of Murfreesboro. It focused on how local leaders worked together to use local government-owned land as catalyst projects for economic development.

Once attendees returned to Nashville, they took a bus tour of the local neighborhoods and greenfield developments. “Attendees also heard from Chamber speakers about Nashville’s efforts to address digital access for all residents, diversify the workforce and have a broader understanding of what careers in technology can include,” Sheng says.

The final day of the trip included speakers regarding public education in Nashville and the relationship between the school system and the Nashville State Community College. The final session was presented by the developers of two relatively new Nashville neighborhoods, who spoke about what it took to amass the land and the mechanisms that were used to finance the new developments. 

Jennifer Van Vrancken, Councilwoman for District 5, also attended the trip to see best practices that are making Nashville a thriving community, while also becoming empowered to advocate for and implement changes that will set Jefferson Parish on a similar path for success. She is now hard at work implementing some of the lessons she learned. 

“One is how public-private partnerships can be the key to bringing needed development to life in a more efficient way than government can sometimes do alone,” Van Vrancken says. “We are working with some of the same folks we met in Nashville to bring to life a public-private partnership in Fat City.”     

Meanwhile, a key takeaway for Hoerner was collaboration between local government officials, the school system and the business community. Since the trip, the Jefferson Chamber board of directors has prioritized a number of issues for the Chamber to address through 2022. These include economic development, education and workforce and business-friendly policies.

“This trip exemplifies how true collaboration benefits our region as a whole and that we need to continuously evolve, acknowledging how decisions made today may affect our region in 20 years,” Hoerner says.   

For Sheng, a great takeaway from the trip came from a meeting with Vernon Gerth, assistant city administrator for economic development for Franklin County. “We are constantly looking for new processes that make things more efficient and more business-friendly,” she says. “He went into specific detail with their permit approval process and their emphasis that getting a property to market within stated guidelines was their priority. It gave us some great ideas as we look to review our own procedures.”

According to Hoerner, there has been a buzz around town since the trip. “The Jefferson Chamber hosted a recap for trip attendees in July, and there have been bi-weekly follow-up meetings in our office with the focus on implementing lessons learned,” she says. “We have some great momentum going, but, most importantly, we have true leaders in place willing to act now and keep that rolling.”

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Intercity Trip 2021 Amanda Alex

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