The Baton Rouge and New Orleans metro areas will eventually become a single metropolitan statistical area, or MSA, which will be a boon for economic development, predicts GNO Inc. President Michael Hecht, who joined Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp in an address to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge today on the rise of the Baton Rouge-New Orleans Super Region.
“We are going to become a single entity along the river,” Hecht said. “That is going to make us bigger, and that is going to make us stronger. … That is going to be the secret of our success.”
After centuries of competition and rivalry, the business leadership of the state’s two largest cities began working together after Hurricane Katrina and have since forged a relationship with an unprecedented level of cooperation, Knapp said.
“We got to know each other in those years, and it was the start of a conversation that built trust that we rely upon to this day,” Knapp said.
In 2009, BRAC and GNO Inc. officially created the Super Region Committee, which comprises leadership from both cities, as well as the bayou region between the two, and meets regularly to discuss projects and issues of importance to both cities.
Not that they have had much choice. Cities like Houston have grown exponentially over the past 30 years, eclipsing all of south Louisiana. Unless Baton Rouge and New Orleans work jointly to promote the entire Super Region, there’s no hope of competing on a national scale, Hecht said.
“Houston is our biggest competitor,” he said. “They took the energy industry from us. They took tremendous human capital from us. We are only undermining ourselves if we don’t present ourselves to the world as a single super region that can compete with Houston.”
The Super Region, which includes the nine-parish Baton Rouge and 10-parish New Orleans region as well as the bayou region, accounts for more than 54% of the state’s total population and 59% of all the jobs in the state, said Knapp, explaining why a regional partnership of the area is something of a no-brainer—even though it would have been unimaginable just a decade ago.
Both Hecht and Knapp predict the growth of the Super Region will intensify when passenger rail service connecting the two cities becomes a reality. The Super Region Committee has been lobbying state and federal lawmakers to bring the long-discussed rail service to fruition. Hecht said he believes it will happen; it’s just a question of when.
“Nothing drives economic development like interconnectivity, and that train is going to happen,” he said.