Business Center to add planning services for area communities
Contact: Rene Abadie
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HAMMOND – The Southeast Louisiana Business Center is adding planning services to help area communities deal with the increasing challenges of population growth and business expansion.
Planning services offered by the Hammond-based center, a division of Southeastern Louisiana University which opened three years ago as a regional one-stop shop to facilitate economic development, include general consultation, a planning resource library, mapping section, and grant-writing assistance.
“It’s generally recognized that the Florida Parishes region – in particular the I-12 corridor – has been hit with what could be termed 10 years of growth in a single year following Hurricane Katrina,” said Southeastern President Randy Moffett in announcing the new service. “In the post-Katrina environment, local challenges have bloomed into regional ones. The planning and research services we are adding can help businesses and communities grow ‘smartly’ by providing ideas, concepts and technical advice that will enhance our region as an excellent place to live and invest.”
Moffett said that while federal and state money is flowing to assist those areas that received physical damage from Katrina, little goes to help the areas that have been flooded with new residents and are experiencing a construction boom, increased commercial growth and severe labor shortages.
“This was a need before the storm,” he said, “but it was a lower priority. Since Katrina, however, the need has reached almost monumental importance because of the growth in our communities.”
Leading the new planning service at the center will be John R. Dardis, who joined Southeastern in August after serving as planning director for the city of Hammond for seven years. Dardis, who holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning and has worked in the profession for 25 years, is a specialist in rural community planning. Over the years, he has served as a consultant to numerous parishes, cities and towns in the region.
“John brings to our program the wisdom and experience with planning that our communities need,” said William Joubert, director of the Business Center. “He knows the resources available, understands the region, and he knows how to get things done. His addition will round out the services we can offer to local governmental units, non-profit organizations, and economic development agencies in the parishes of Livingston, Tangipahoa, St. Helena, St. Tammany and Washington. “
“We can serve as the regional planning library for the communities in our area,” Dardis explained. “We can be the resource that staff and elected officials turn to when they have questions or concerns about community planning. In addition, we can serve as the valued ‘neutral partner’ when leaders need to work together on a regional problem or issue.”
“Many of our smaller communities don’t have the resources to have planners on staff,” Joubert added. “They are relatively unprepared to deal with growth, and this has the potential to threaten the long term economic vitality of the region.”
Those communities that do have a planner find those individuals are often occupied with pressing compliance and construction issues, Dardis explained
“They are basically reacting to the situation at hand,” he said. “Actual planning issues tend to fall behind. Communities recognize that planning is something they need to do but they simply don’t have the resources to be pro-active in the area.”
Dardis said that Southeastern has valuable resources that can be tapped to help the communities with their planning issues, including mapping services, geographers, sociologists and criminal justice experts, the Business Research Center, and the Southeastern Social Science Research Center.
The regional approach to planning can work, Joubert said, just as the Business Center is helping to coordinate a regional economic development effort focused on the I-12 corridor.
“The idea is for us to come together collectively and to work with organizations such as the Florida Parishes Economic Development Association to help plan our region,” he said. “The regional approach to growth is looked upon favorably by legislators and funding agencies.”
Joubert explained that the planning division will complement and enhance the services offered through the Business Center, which includes Southeastern’s Small Business Development Center, a business research division, and regional economic development assistance.
Planning projects and research activities will be drawn from the region’s 28 incorporated cities and towns and 62 unincorporated towns and villages. The five-parish region has a population of approximately 438,000 with more than 16,000 businesses, non-profit organizations, governmental units, and schools.
“While some areas of the region are experiencing ‘hypergrowth,’ others are slowed because of a lack of vision and preparation,” Joubert said. “This includes mostly rural regions with growing areas of development. We anticipate that about 60 percent of our planning efforts will go to these underserved rural areas.”