The New Economic Clubhouse
The new LABI Center for Free Enterprise in Baton Rouge offers space for collaboration, idea generation, relationship building, strategizing and just hanging out
In September, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry cut the ribbon on its 15,000-square-foot Center for Free Enterprise in Baton Rouge. Biz New Orleans visited with LABI President and CEO Stephen Waguespack to discuss the impressive new center and where the organization is focusing its efforts in 2021.
This welcoming ‘hangout house’ for businesses of all sizes is intended to help strengthen relationships, foster new ideas and implement strategies to maximize our state’s economic potential.
Stephen Waguespack, LABI President and CEO
How would you describe LABI and its core customer or client base?
LABI is the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing association. Our members are over 2,000 Louisiana companies of all sizes and regions. You’ll find everything from a large, multi-national corporation to a small, main street business and everything in between. We work with our members to identify obstacles to free enterprise in Louisiana and develop strategies to overcome them. We also work collaboratively with stakeholders to enhance what Louisiana does well and help it grow and prosper. We proudly stand up for our job creators and advocate for free enterprise-oriented solutions in Washington, D.C. and at the state capitol in Baton Rouge.
How do you offer something different or set yourselves apart from similar organizations?
Our horsepower comes from the diversity and breadth of the membership. All regions of the state — and most industries and businesses within it — are represented in our membership. Our policy proposals resonate with any political party and our programs focus on initiatives that work in any region. Rather than focus one specific issue area or a focused industry base, we try to be a voice for a strong variety of stakeholders.
How does LABI promote a positive atmosphere for the 20-person staff and the organization’s members?
Our building is welcoming, our team tackles projects together and no staff member is above any duty in the organization. Everyone that works here needs to have a Swiss Army Knife-type of persona, open to working in a variety of different ways on any given day. That variety is exciting to our group; it keeps work from getting monotonous. We work diligently to represent our members but also find time to share a drink and a laugh along the way. Also, since we are a cause-driven entity, our employees show up every single day ready to make a positive difference in the state they love.
What were your goals for the design?
Our vision was to create a smart, comfortable and professional collaborative space for business leaders and policy makers from around Louisiana to gather. This welcoming ‘hangout house’ for businesses of all sizes is intended to help strengthen relationships, foster new ideas and implement strategies to maximize our state’s economic potential.
What was the biggest design challenge?
This beautiful, historic building dates from the late 1800s and we had some original girders that were in pretty rough shape, but we worked with our structural engineers to design and implement a plan to reinforce them while maintaining the desired aesthetic. It was a tricky problem that required a creative solution using I-beams, lifts, cranes and some good, old-fashioned hard work. Also, supply chains were impacted due to COVID-19 market disruptions, but our team did a great job of working around resource deliveries and kept the job safely moving along.
What is the standout feature of the center?
We are proud of the entire space, from top to bottom, but a few [features] stand out. The conference center is multi-use and user friendly, able to evolve several times throughout the day from a coffee shop, lounge vibe to a training table-filled seminar room to a ballroom for an evening reception or a sports bar to watch the big game. Also, the outdoor event space and the upstairs Logo Lounge provide a few other ways for leaders to share time and ideas together on a daily basis. Lastly, the artwork in the building tries to tastefully pay tribute to the Louisiana economy and landscape.
What are LABI’s biggest business challenges?
The intersection of politics and policy is always tricky to navigate. It takes a lot of expertise and effort to help business leaders — many of whom run large, productive companies — identify the time and patience to learn about the challenges Louisiana has, educate them on how they can help and give them the tools to easily do so. Another challenge is making business leaders understand that their ideas are welcome and encouraged, that the same entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic that helped their business to overcome one problem after another is the same energy and ideas government needs to tackle their challenges. Government will never fix the problems they face without help from the real world.
What goals are you looking to meet in the next 12 months?
Job creators are the backbone of every community and we need to help them shine in 2021 any way we possibly can. Advocating for economically smart policies is a part of that. Using our new collaborative space to harness the talents and power of our members is another. Louisiana needs business to bounce back in a big way next year and we plan to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
At a Glance
LABI Center for Free Enterprise
500 Main St., Baton Rouge
Number of years in business
Date of opening current facility
Ribbon cutting was September 2020
Number of Employees
Person in Charge
LABI President and CEO Stephen Waguespack
EskewDumezRipple, in partnership with Colleen Waguespack Interiors
AOS Interior Environments
Ann Connelly Fine Art