Looking back on 2015, I would define the Vermilion Economic Development Alliance as a “work in progress.” Our organization, and the work that we do, is ever-changing to meet the needs of the community. In the past year we’ve learned about key issues, ongoing problems, probable solutions, and met hundreds of concerned and impassioned people. But weaving new ideas into the fabric of an established society can be difficult. I, for one, underestimated how much work there was to be done. From building trust to making connections, just being here was not enough. We spent a great majority of the first quarter establishing our brand and creating the identity we would have to uphold. Our mission, values, services and goals didn’t exist as they are 365 days ago. But, with all that, we still managed to reach businesses, invest our time and resources into the community and achieve success.

Here are some highlights:

We hosted seven seminars with a little more than 125 attendees, representing over 60 businesses. These classes ranged from basic business financing to social media and public relations, and focused on skills like goal planning and prioritization.

To bring even more information and awareness to local business leaders, we started a monthly column with the Abbeville Meridional to discuss programs, projects and opportunities in Vermilion.

We broadened our reach to the region and leveraged our Acadiana connection to build a parish-wide photo database and aerial photography that we can use for marketing around the world.

We entertained national site selection consultants, Acadiana CEOs, utility providers and a target industry specialist in an effort to tell the Vermilion story and help shape the future of our business recruitment and retention strategies.

We built services to suit businesses in every stage of their life cycle from start-ups – with our Doing Business Guides, to those in a growth phase – with our market research. We were able to successfully connect businesses with resources available from the state and local players including low interest loans, customized training, and shared costs for marketing and accounting assistance.  Our efforts resulted in working relationships with over 35 unique businesses and ten companies considering Vermilion for their location, on their specific issues with partners like One Acadiana, the Acadiana Planning Commission, Acadiana Regional Alliance, Vermilion Chamber of Commerce, and others.

We began a sites and buildings program to capture developable properties and spearheaded a project with Acadiana Economic Development Council to bring an online GIS platform (think Google Maps-type mapping) to the parish.

But, even our best efforts seemed futile with the current state of the oil and gas industry. So, together with state and local partners we began conversations about the unemployment crisis. Plans are underway for a multi-industry job fair in March of 2016.

2015 was all about reconnecting our communities, too. Building upon the efforts of other local agencies, elected officials, businesses and the workforce itself, gave us a unique advantage in the region. And our reputation as an asset-packed place that’s both good for business and a great place to live, is at an all-time high. Because of all that hard work, we now have a seat at the (regional economic development) table. We have earned the trust and respect of our counterparts and are now included in conversations about regional issues – transportation, workforce development, rebuilding our urban cores, legislative matters and the like. Internally, our communities are working together, too. Municipalities and port districts leveraging the work of the police jury and councils. The spirit of comradery gained in 2015 is probably the most exciting thing, to me.

So, what does 2016 hold? Well, you can expect a lot of what you saw in 2015, except on steroids. Bigger, bolder efforts, more outreach to local business, more intra-parish projects and regional alliances. More services for businesses and more businesses being involved in the conversation on what those services should be. We’re a work in progress, but more importantly, when we work together, we progress.

Be a part of the movement! Stay up-to-date on what we’re doing and how to get involved by signing up online at www.developvermilion.org.

Originally published in the Abbeville Meridional on 1/3/16