When someone is looking for a place in Louisiana to live, work or open a business, why not Acadiana?
One Acadiana is striving to make that not a question, but rather make the nine-parish region a driving economic force, for the state and beyond.
The organization celebrated its first year of that mission Wednesday evening during an event at the Cajundome Convention Center in Lafayette. One Acadiana, formerly the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, has 1,200 member businesses through the nine parishes that make up Acadiana.
“Tonight we’re here to celebrate our region,” One Acadiana President and CEO Jason El Koubi said. “To celebrate as nine parishes…as a constellation of cities…as both business and civic, as one region, One Acadiana.”
The effort to create One Acadiana began in 2014. A campaign secured a budget of more than $3 million per year for the next five years.
“2015 was an eventful year,” El Koubi said. “We are working in the short-term and long-term to ensure a brighter future for our businesses and families in every parish: Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Jeff Davis, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary and Vermilion.”
Julie Simon-Dronet of Cox Communications, the event’s sponsor, said those parishes working together is the spirit of One Acadiana.
“We are a dynamic region of nine parishes working together,” Dronet said. “We know a win for Abbeville, or New Iberia, or Crowley is a win for Lafayette. And a win for Lafayette is win for the region.
“One Acadiana is proving that we are stronger together.”
El Koubi said the need for the parishes to come together is greater than when One Acadiana began.
“When we started this journey, we said that the greatest risk was complacency,” El Koubi said. “Some were concerned that because our economy was already so strong, the willingness to take our economic future seriously by investing in an organization like One Acadiana was lagniappe. A ‘nice to have”…but not urgent. What a difference a year makes.
“Today we confront a very different landscape with new challenges.”
An ailing economy and job market affected by low oil prices are top challenges.
“Today our biggest immediate challenge is confronting a difficult economic cycle,” El Koubi said. “That is one of the key reasons One Acadiana was built in the first place, to bring together the region’s leaders to act boldly in the face of adversity.”
One Acadiana is looking to help those affected by the downturn, by launching an effort to bring together people looking for a job with companies that are hiring.
“We want to respond to the immediate needs of Acadiana’s displaced workers,” One Acadiana’s 2016 Chairman Jerry Vascocu said. “We are partnering with Lafayette Economic Development and the Louisiana Workforce Commission and others to connect job seekers with available jobs across south Louisiana.
“We are working hard to be a resource to the business community by providing more opportunities than ever for members to network and explore new markets.”
That the downturn in the oil and gas industry coincides with One Acadiana’s first year is unfortunate, but not a challenge that cannot be properly faced.
“There is no question we would have wished for a few more years under our belt to face the challenges ahead,” El Koubi said, ‘but the potential we have now, with a regional platform capable of taking action to preserve and strengthen our economy, is greater than it has ever been.”
Helping to bring One Acadiana’s message to the people who make up the region are three new commercials, as well as a new website, www.oneacadiana.org. One of the ads features Vermilion Economic Development Alliance Executive Director Anne Falgout highlighting the parish.
Whether it is Vermilion, Acadia, St. Landry or any other parish, One Acadiana is focused on initiatives, including transportation, infrastructure and workforce development improvements that will help that area and all of Acadiana. The organization has and will continue to promote regional assets and policies to businesses and people from around the world.
“I believe One Acadiana’s vision is attainable,” El Koubi said. “We can make Acadiana, in reality and reputation, one of the most high quality, sought after regions in the south for enjoying a prosperous career in an idyllic family environment.”
Shaun Hearen, Abbeville Meridional