Trends for 2019 Roundtable: Business community must forge a collective vision for Baton Rouge

Connie Fabre, Executive Director, Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance; Mathew Laborde, CEO, Elifin Realty; Michael Nizzo, East Baton Rouge Market President, Business First Bank; Nick Pentas, General Manager and Partner, Mercedes-Benz of Baton Rouge; Christel Slaughter, CEO, SSA Consultants; Edgardo Tenreiro, CEO, Baton Rouge General Medical Center

Baton Rouge desperately needs a collective vision, and it’s incumbent upon the business community to create one, leaders taking part in Business Report‘s Trends for 2019 Roundtable agreed.

In mid-December, Business Report invited leaders representing each of our sponsors to a unique morning roundtable for a conversation about some of the most critical issues facing the Baton Rouge businesses and the community in the coming year. Topics included quality of life, education, crime, interest rates, tariffs and more. But it was the conversation about a business-driven vision for Baton Rouge that dominated much of the conversation.

At the December roundtable, SSA Consultants CEO Christel Slaughter said she’s not sure the power of a shared vision is understood.

“We have elements,” she said. “We have the health district. We have the Baton Rouge Community College and the Career and Technical Academy, and we have the automotive technician training program. And so on. But what’s our collective vision? If we were able to have some of the community leaders or organizations come together and help shape that, then, for example, the Baton Rouge Community College would be able to say, ‘Gee, we are moving in the area of information technology, so let’s put more programs out in that area.’ Or we want to be known as the destination health care site. What does that mean for all of our businesses that are located here? How do we feed off of that, but also support that? I think it’s just that we’re not realizing the dramatic difference that can make.”

As many participants noted the impact of business leaders Mike Wampold and Jim Bernhard in advocating for the MovEBR initiative, Baton Rouge General CEO Edgardo Tenreiro put the onus on the business community to develop that vision.

“I’m going to put the blame squarely on the leaders of the business community—or I should say the challenge, really,” he said. “The solution must come from the business community and I don’t know that we have had our collective voice. We haven’t developed it. I think the Chamber of Commerce has done a lot of great work in this regard, but there’s a lot more to be done. Collectively, I don’t know that there’s a clear vision of what we want to accomplish. I think the challenge I would like to issue—hopefully through this forum—is ‘What are we going to do about this? What is the business community going to do about developing that vision?'”

During the morning roundtable, participants also took up education, health care costs and workforce challenges. Read key excerpts of their conversation—published in a special sponsored section in the latest issue of Business Report—via the reader below, or read the complete transcript.

The roundtable was sponsored by ExxonMobil, Elifin Realty, Business First Bank, Mercedes-Benz of Baton Rouge, SSA Consultants and Baton Rouge General Medical Center.