Leaders: Super Region Needed To Compete With Houston

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The heads of two regional economic development organizations say Baton Rouge and New Orleans need to team up to form a super region to help south Louisiana better compete with Houston for jobs.

         The Advocate’s Timothy Boone reports Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of GNO Inc. told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge Wednesday that Houston took the energy industry away from southeast Louisiana and they took incalculable human capital going back to the 1960s.

         "Why on Earth are we competing separately against an area that is that geographically large and has all that diversity, with the universities and the medical centers?" Hecht said.

         Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said Houston has almost 6.5 million residents spread across a metro area that's nearly 10,000 square miles. In comparison, the super region of Baton Rouge-New Orleans-Houma-Thibodaux has 2.2 million residents and is 8,000 square miles.

         "We have to be able to work together to see ourselves compete at a scale against an area that is so much of our competition," he said.

         The efforts to develop the super region started in earnest in 2009, with BRAC and GNO Inc. officials agreeing to meet every other month with the gatherings alternating between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Over the years, the South Louisiana Economic Council, which promotes economic development in the Houma-Thibodaux region, has joined the effort.

         Knapp noted that 54 percent of Louisiana's population lives in the super region, 59 percent of state jobs and legislators are in the super region and 60 percent of all state sales taxes are collected in the area. "There's a tremendous amount of opportunity for this southeast region to drive the agenda for the rest of the state," Knapp said.

         The regions have worked together, passing out joint marketing materials at a chemical industry trade show in Germany and organizing super-regional trips to Tampa-Orlando, Florida, and Tucson-Phoenix, Arizona, to learn from their successes. Details are almost set for the next trip, set for fall 2016 to Panama.

         There are some natural connections between south Louisiana and the Central American nation, Hecht said. For one, there are direct flights between New Orleans and Panama City.

         The other is that in the northern part of the country is the city of Colon, a free-trade zone that Hecht said is "totally, totally radically different" than Panama City.

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