Baton Rouge needs dramatic change to keep pace with global landscape

Baton Rouge needs to undergo a dramatic transformation to attract young people and avoid falling victim to a rapidly changing global landscape.

That is the message Tom Murphy, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute and former mayor of Pittsburgh, delivered today at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Signature Speaker Series.

His remarks come as Baton Rouge grapples with numerous quality of life issues as well whether or not residents are willing to pay new taxes for transportation and other infrastructure projects. Then there’s the uncertainty of a parish still recovering from last year’s floods. Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, whose keystone transportation tax plan will go before its first real test tomorrow at the Metro Council, also spoke at the event and laid out goals like transforming blight and reducing crime in the Capital City.

Murphy is best known for his role guiding Pittsburgh’s reinvigoration after that city lost hundreds of thousands of steelworkers along with other residents during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s as manufacturing jobs dried up, prompting people to flee the city.  

Murphy cited a host of “entrepreneurial” tools he used as mayor—such as tax incremental financing districts, public-private-partnerships and historic tax credits—to make Pittsburgh more attractive and livable. The private sector has a key role in cities throughout the country, he noted, through initiatives like funding education and helping transform blighted areas.

He also noted he never raised property taxes as mayor, instead turning to a small, targeted increase in the sales tax, along with tax incentives and other resources to get private companies to invest in the city.

“Globalization is fundamentally changing the rules,” Murphy says. “You need to make some choices. You have some incredible assets … You’re not putting them together right now.”

Barack Obama, in 2009, held the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, in part, says Murphy, to highlight the city’s resilience amid the collapse of large parts of the U.S. manufacturing sector.

For Baton Rouge, Murphy said leaders should leverage the millions in research dollars and thousands of graduates from LSU by building an “infrastructure” around the university. He warned of a “reactionary” mindset and encouraged investing in things that will make a culturally vibrant city that will attract a robust workforce.

—Sam Karlin

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