Leaders from the Zachary Chamber's second Leadership NORTH program were treated to a mayor's panel discussion centered on recent and upcoming economic development in the mayors' cities.
Invited to participate on the panel were Mayors David Amrhein (Zachary), William "Billy" D'Aquilla (St. Francisville), Robert Jackson (Slaughter), Robert Myer (New Roads), Harold Rideau (Baker) and Mac Watts (Central). Mayors D'Aquilla and Jackson were unable to attend.
Special guests included Kate MacArthur, Zachary's new director of economic development, and her predecessor, Chip Mills, who was visiting the Aug. 16 program from Austin.
MacArthur, who has eight years of experience in the industry, told leaders that economic development is different for everybody, as well as every community.
Mills paid tribute to DEMCO, who was a "key component in getting Leadership NORTH going by devoting time and resources."
DEMCO's Turk Tines and Roxane Barnes, of Cleco Power LLC, both spoke about their companies' involvement in community development.
Dr. Marilyn Cantrell, ED and community development consultant for the City of Central, presented a consultant's perspective to the group, focusing on several primary objectives: Increasing local tax base; improving residents' quality of life; raising the standard of living of citizens; and engaging in business retention activities.
Mayor Watts, in office for seven years and the only mayor the Central community has ever had, is the father of Wes Watts, principal at Zachary High.
Watts said Central is in the process of developing a master plan, as well as working on a Central thruway. "We've got a top ten school district, but we're looking to knock Zachary from its current position," he said jokingly, referring to his son's school district and Mayor Amrhein's community. "Central people are very interested in education and technology, which is why we're also developing a city center for our residents."
Watts said he has lived in Central his whole life, and he has much love for the community. "We all live on the same road and near each other," Watts said of his family. "Every Sunday morning there's about 11 of us who gather at the breakfast table."
Mayor Robert Myer has been mayor of New Roads since 2010 and said New Roads is the "prettiest place in Louisiana."
Myer detailed his city's attributes including its lakes and rivers, water sport activities, historic features, antique district and its plenty of festivals, including the second-oldest Mardi Gras celebration outside of New Orleans. "Last year over 110,000 people visited New Roads for Mardi Gras," Myer said.
Taking the city in a new and more focused direction, Myer listed rebuilding city sewer lines and lift stations, road repair, new businesses soon to open (Walmart) and agricultural successes such as the harvesting of nine different crops as several of New Roads' recent achievements in economic development.
Mayor David Amrhein, in office for the past 18 months, said you're only as good as the people you surround yourself with. "I'm blessed to have such a great city council - five guys who understand our vision of wanting to move Zachary forward," Amrhein said.
He named several projects currently taking place in Zachary including the city's nearly $15 million investment of overhauling of its sewer system. "DEQ has been very generous," Amrhein said of their loan to the community for sewer repairs. Amrhein also listed the turfing of the quad at Zachary Youth Park, several road repair projects and the growth and construction of the school district.
"We're fortunate that the Zachary school district, Chamber of Commerce and city are all on the same page," said Mayor Amrhein. "But we need to really focus on smart growth, not growth for the sake of doing so. If we continue to waiver everything, then we might as well throw out our master and strategic plans for the city."
Mayor Harold Rideau, in his third term as mayor, has a strong sense of community and commitment to Baker.
Rideau said Baker was selected last month for the Louisiana Development Ready Communities Program to become “development ready, competitive and open for business.”
The LED program strengthens the economic competitiveness of municipalities. As part of the planning process, residents recently outlined Baker's strengths - fire and police protection, proximity to big city and lots of churches, as well as a few barriers - poor public image, weak educational system and lack of parental involvement in schools and sports.
Mayor Rideau said he and his council are working to overcome the hurdles his community faces, and it looks as though they are well on their way.
Baker received the “Best of Show in Community Achievement” Award for municipalities with populations of 10,001 to 25,000 at the 11th annual Louisiana Municipal Association on Aug. 4.
The recognition came for the $3.3 million conservation project involving the placement of state-of-the-art automated, radio-reporting, water meters at about 5,800 residences and businesses.
Rideau said he'd love to be as successful as his Central and Zachary neighbors. "We're identifying our issues and tackling them one by one," Rideau said.
All mayors said they have much respect for each other and they realize the success of their own community relies on the success of their neighboring communities. "We're going to start meeting once a month to have lunch," they said.
All mayors expressed much love for the cities they govern, as well as for its citizens.
About Leadership NORTH
Leadership NORTH is an annual leadership development program for the north Baton Rouge region hosted by the Zachary Chamber of Commerce with assistance from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, LSU AgCenter and Dr. Bobby Soileau, as well as cooperation from Metro Councilman Trae Welch and DEMCO’s Brent Bradley.
Mills, director of economic development for Zachary until recently, was instrumental in starting the leadership program.
Participants in the program - persons living or working in Baton Rouge, Zachary, Central, Baker, Pointe Coupee and East and West Feliciana - have the full support of the organization or business they represent.
The program is designed to engage emerging leaders in the region and prepare them to meet the future needs of their communities.
The inaugural class of Leadership NORTH was held in 2011. The 2012 Leadership NORTH class began Feb. 16 and concluded Aug. 16.