Cities a model for La. leaders

The frigidity that historically has characterized the relationship between New Orleans and Baton Rouge melted away Sunday as about 170 government, private-sector and nonprofit leaders from both metropolitan areas gathered in Orlando to explore opportunities for collaboration on economic development initiatives.

The 2013 Super Region Canvas, a partnership between the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Greater New Orleans Inc., is a three-day conference that includes travel between Orlando and Tampa for seminars on how those cities and others in central Florida work together to improve the region’s digital media and health care industries and attack issues such as crime and poor transportation.

The seminars were arranged earlier this year by representatives from the two Louisiana organizations who visited companies, public agencies and economic development organizations in the Orlando and Tampa area.

GNO Inc. and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber form the Southeast Super-Region Committee, which works to facilitate cooperation between the two cities on projects that would benefit both.

The Baton Rouge economic development community has taken a similar trip to different parts of the nation for a decade. This is the first time representatives from New Orleans have joined the trip.

BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp called it a “historic trip.”

“One of the reasons the Super-Region Committee sought to do this was to once and for all bury the notion that our two regions fight with each other and don’t agree,” Knapp said. “(The notion) goes back generations and generations that somehow these two regions can’t be coordinated.”

Representatives from Lafayette, Houma and Thibodaux also were invited to the seminars.

The group includes New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, East Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and Jefferson Parish President John Young. The private sector is represented by developer Roger Ogden, businessman John Georges, who owns The New Orleans Advocate and The Advocate in Baton Rouge, and entrepreneur Damon Burns, among others.

Stirling Properties President and CEO Marty Mayer, who co-chairs the committee, said the group chose to visit central Florida because it has demographics similar to the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas, including a large minority population.

The Florida region also has a growing biotechnology community, a healthy digital media sector and increasing concerns about traffic congestion as it expands.

During a lunch seminar Sunday, attendees said they wanted to learn more about how the region fosters relationships with the media, fights the problem of crime in Tampa and manages to find funding for infrastructure improvements.

The Louisiana group also is interested in finding out how the Florida region advanced a plan for a light rail system connecting several counties.

Stuart Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional economic development agency, said the first step for Louisiana’s leaders is to catalog their assets.

Tampa Bay and Orlando identified their two major airports, attractions such as Disney World and 60 colleges in their list of assets.

“I think that was one of the most powerful things we did when we brought our regions together,” Rogel said.

The regions began working together in 1995 after Orlando and Tampa Bay lost their bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, said Shelley Lauten, founding partner of triSECT, an Orlando economic development consulting firm.

“We thought, there’s nobody who can do it like we can. We’re the leaders in this type of event,” Lauten said. “The (selection) committee came down and they took one look at (Interstate 4)… and they went, ‘Not on your life.’ ”

At the time, the interstate was only a two-lane road, and traveling between Orlando and Tampa for different Olympic events would have led to a nightmare in traffic congestion.

That event gave the region the push it needed to improve its infrastructure as a region, Lauten said.

The three-day conference will continue with panel discussions on digital media, health care and transportation on Monday, and airports and crime on Tuesday.