Highlights of the panel discussion Economic Development Week – L’Observateur


RESERVE – As remote work is a priority in a post-COVID world, the economic development of a community is inseparable from the quality of life.

To celebrate Economic Development Week 2022, St. John the Baptist Parish hosted a panel discussion examining how communities can create an enabling climate to drive economic development.

Panelists included Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment; Michael Hecht, CEO of GNO Inc.; Stacey Neal, Director of Community Competitiveness for Louisiana Economic Development; and Ashley Llewellyn, director of strategic initiatives for St. Tammany Corporation. Stanley Bienemy, Director of Economic Development at St. John Parish, acted as moderator.

Stelly talked about how Louisiana was one of the first states to approach the film industry from an economic development standpoint through film incentives. St. John Parish has the advantage of having a sound stage at the St. John Community Center and the region is unique in that it offers a diverse range of filming locations.

Stelly said it’s important to consider both the community disruptions that productions can bring and the benefits and community partnerships that can come from the film industry’s presence.

While the film industry at large requires in-person participation, many other industries have seen an amazing shift toward remote work opportunities.

From Hecht’s point of view, raising capital boils down to creating an environment in which people can start families.

“Now it’s less about where the head office is and more about where the employees are,” said Hecht. “It’s about creating an environment that people want to live in.”

Neal pointed out that until 10 years ago, quality of life was not among the top 25 concerns for Louisiana workers.

“Now it’s the top 5. They want to know what you have to offer me. What does the education system look like?” Nele said.

Llewellyn said there needs to be an emphasis on education and training resources that are available to employees, whether a company has a team of two or a team of 2,000. Small business training centers, such as the center on the River Parishes Community College campus, can provide valuable resources to small and burgeoning businesses.

She added that every community has a story, and telling that story is a way of attracting people and businesses to a community. She challenged the audience to think about which local attractions they would show a friend or which places they would celebrate with family. Even the local playground with the coolest slide or the friendly florist who greets you by name are part of the bigger story.

“These things may seem small, but they really tell the story of your community,” Llewellyn said.

Hecht said a strong highway program and clean energy sources can help move a community forward. The focus must be on a local government known for reliability and transparency.

“We don’t have enough people in government who know what it’s like to do payroll,” Hecht said.

Economic Development Week was created in 2016 to raise awareness of local programs that create jobs and improve quality of life. Other events in St. John Parish this week included a networking/coffee talk, St. John’s Day in the state capital and a careers fair.


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