Baton Rouge Canvas trip participants bring big ideas back from Arizona’s Sun Corridor

Establish a new medical school. Build more citizen engagement in education. Nurture entrepreneurship. Incorporate light rail.

These are just a few of the concepts that a delegation of 145 business and community leaders from south Louisiana plans to bring home from its Super Region Canvas trip to Arizona’s Sun Corridor that began Sunday and concludes today.

Metro Councilman John Delgado says past Canvas trips have resulted in new initiatives for the Capital Region, and this year’s trip will be no different. Organizers note the idea for a Baton Rouge Health District and subsequent discussions about building a clinical trials program here began with a Canvas trip, as did the pressure put on LSU to expand technology transfer and the Automotive Technology Center at Ardendale.

“If we live in a bubble and never expose ourselves to other communities and regions, we’re just doing the same things over and over again,” Delgado says. “You have to get out there. To me, we should be doing these more often than every 18 months. I think we should do it as often as possible.”

Many delegates say they were most impressed by entrepreneurial efforts taking place in Arizona that were detailed by a Monday afternoon panel at the University of Arizona at SkySong. Panelists included Dr. Mitzie Montoya, vice president and dean of entrepreneurship at the university, and Courtney Klein, co-founder and CEO of Seed Spot, an incubator that supports early stage social entrepreneurs.

Byron Clayton, CEO of Research Park Corp., says Arizona’s focus on collective impact is a concept that could benefit Louisiana.

“Instead of just thinking, ‘I’m this organization, and I’m just focused on Phoenix or Scottsdale or whatever,’ they’re looking broader,” Clayton says. “They talk about reaching out and gaining support outside of the state to bring back resources to the state. That is a major takeaway.”

Arizona also has a state-financed one-stop website for entrepreneurs in any stage to identify critical resources.

“Somebody needs to provide that umbrella for entrepreneurs to find the support that they need to grow,” Clayton says. “As a region, we need to come together and understand how to nurture entrepreneurship in all the stages.”

Also of interest was a Monday morning discussion about the positive impact a Phoenix campus of the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine has had on addressing a physician shortage. The Baton Rouge Health District is exploring the idea of a four-year medical school in Baton Rouge.

“It’s a great analogy to discussions of whether LSU Health Center or Tulane could establish a four-year medical school,” says Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp.

“We have physician shortages on the horizon,” noted Knapp, adding, “There’s clearly a demand for it.”

The Super Region Canvas trip concludes this afternoon in Tucson following sessions on transportation planning and economic growth. As previously reported, an executive with BASIS—one of the most academically demanding charter programs in the nation—announced at a Canvas event on Sunday that BASIS wants to bring five schools to Louisiana, with the first campus tentatively set to open in 2017.

The Canvas trip is a joint venture between the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Greater New Orleans Inc. that is meant to give participants greater perspective on how peer cities handle critical issues common to all communities. The trips have taken place about every other year since 2003. BRAC formerly organized the trips on its own, but in 2013 partnered with GNO Inc. to increase regional cooperation among south Louisiana’s business communities.

Knapp says such excursions are critical to ongoing discussions to improve the Capital Region.

“Change doesn’t just come from intuition or from brainstorming on a whiteboard in an office in Baton Rouge,” Knapp says. “So much of it comes from this active inspiration, of seeing other examples and making them fit for our context.”

—Penny Font

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