‘Business Report’ Publisher: The green grass of Baton Rouge

Reflecting on Business Report’s 35th anniversary, Publisher Rolfe McCollister says the milestone reflected in the pages of the magazine’s current issue also marks the progress and change in Baton Rouge’s business community.

“There has been progress and change in some areas—and in others, not nearly enough,” McCollister writes in his latest column. “But I have learned that you aim for progress, not perfection, and it is often a matter of one’s perspective. Celebrate your wins and learn from your losses—and appreciate the opportunity to be in the game.”

To that end, he recalls the words of the late Robert Greer Sr., CEO of Union National Life Insurance and the 1986 Business Awards Executive of the Year honoree.

“If I was starting all over,” McCollister quotes Greer as saying, “I would ask the good Lord for three things: 1) Let me have my same family; 2) Let me work with the people of Union National Life; and 3) Let me live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

Maybe it was the wisdom that comes with age, experience and some gray hair, McCollister muses in his latest column. “He seemed to know what many of us have learned over the years, that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Mr. Greer was grateful and celebrated the good things he had. He was a successful businessman, community leader and family man that understood the priorities in life.”

Of course, life in Baton Rouge is different for everyone, McCollister acknowledges, but what’s also true is there are some who’ve left—either out of frustration or circumstance—and gained a new appreciation for Baton Rouge and what makes the city unique.

“It’s a quality that often is not about how you can spend your time, but whom you spend it with. Life can be about shared experiences with family and friends. It’s about the fabric and the culture—and the character of people. It can sometimes be hard to see or explain,” he writes. “But it reveals itself clearly in a crisis like Katrina, the 2016 August floods—or now with Harvey.”

Still, McCollister notes Baton Rouge, like every other city, has challenges it must address.

“We have our challenges and I have pointed them out often here in this column for 35 years—and fought alongside many of you to bring change. Some have been resolved, some improved and some are unchanged. But most growing cities have problems. That will not change,” he says. “We must keep fertilizing and mowing the grass—and pulling weeds—to compete and improve. There is still much work to do and we need vision for the future. But as I step back and reflect on this 35-year journey, despite the challenges, I think Mr. Greer had it right—and I am proud to call Baton Rouge home.”

If looking for inspiration that change can happen, McCollister mentions the remarkable transformation of downtown. “Three decades ago you could roll up the sidewalks at 5 p.m. The old City Dock south of the bridge lay in ruin, rusting. It was sad symbol for our river city. But out of the ashes rose a vision from a charrette lead by Andres Duany, which the Baton Rouge Area Foundation initiated,” McCollister writes. “… Downtown is a great success story and a showpiece for our community, which is important to economic development and to keeping and attracting young talent. It is proof change can happen here—but we need to pick up the pace and now move on to other areas of our community. “

Besides the odyssey of Business Report, McCollister also writes about the inspiring journey of David Thomas, who he met at the Children’s Charter School. Thomas, who grew up around the corner from the Triple S Food Mart, relied on education to make a better life for himself and to overcome his circumstances.

Thomas aspires to work on public health issues. He graduated with a degree in neuroscience from Rhodes College in Memphis and received a master’s degree in public health at Long Island University in May. He’s now attending Morgan State University where he’s working to obtain a doctorate in public health.

“I am so proud of David and his journey. It has been a joy to watch and I congratulate him. As I said in 2012, David’s story is evidence that school choice can make a difference.”

Read the full column in Business Report’s 35th commemorative issue. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

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