Since becoming executive director of the Vermilion Economic Development Alliance (VEDA) in late 2014, Anne Falgout and 15 volunteer members of the board have worked to bring business and growth to Vermilion Parish.

Anne Falgout, executive director of the Vermilion Economic Development Alliance speaks to the Abbeville Kiwanis Club.

With ‘18 in the rearview, Falgout spoke last week to members of the Kiwanis Club of Abbeville about some of the things this year has in store. Falgout said meeting with groups like the Kiwanis Club helps create a better view of what the community needs.

“Economic development doesn’t operate in a silo,” Falgout said, “where we decide what communities look like, and then we go out and do that. We really like to collaborate. We have representatives from every municipality, different government entities and the business community on our board.”

“We really care about what all the groups in Vermilion Parish want and putting that together to build a bigger vision.” An important part of building that vision is having a plan, something Falgout said is done piece by piece.

“When a sports team begins a season,” Falgout said, “they don’t anticipate the headlines with the trophy raised above their heads at the end of the season. It’s really about the process. It’s about the workouts, learning the plays and really coming together as a team.”

“That’s the way we look at it. It’s about putting things together in a very planned, methodical way, so that we can see what works.” Much of that planning goes into VEDA’s number one concern, business development. “We look at that as two different things,” Falgout said. “That’s helping entrepreneurs start businesses, creating an environment for that, and attracting people to fill in the gaps where there might be some. The other piece is community development. This is how our organization might be a little different from other economic development organizations in the area. Rural communities need a lot of support, not just in the traditional business assistance, but also creating a place that people want to be, live and work.”

Falgout referenced the City of Kaplan’s effort to become an official retirement community. “Kaplan told us that they want to be designated a retirement-ready community,” Falgout said. “We helped them to figure out what the economic benefits were. We helped with the application (through the state). We’re waiting to see what the lieutenant governor says.”

If the process goes through, Falgout said it would offer a great tool to help growth in the city. “We could start marketing Kaplan,” Falgout said, “as a place for people with the means to retire, and want a quaint place to retire, should do it there. We could leverage that to get grants for cultural improvement and attract businesses that target retirees. “It all happens in tandem.”

It’s similar in the way VEDA is moving forward with its funding. Initially funded largely from municipalities and government entities in the parish, Falgout said private funding is playing a role. Falgout said several businesses have pledged support, whether its a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. “They have bought in and are putting up their hard-earned money,” Falgout said. “They want to make sure that businesses like theirs succeed.” Falgout said VEDA has secured $44,500 in public funds for 2018 and a $20,000 commitment from the Vermilion Parish Police Jury for 2019. The organization also received a $60,387 in USDA funds for technical assistance provided.

Falgout stressed that theses funds are there to help make anyone who has a stake in the economic success of Vermilion Parish. “People always ask me how much are our services,” Falgout said. “I tell them that they are complimentary at point of service. You pay taxes to government entities, who have helped fund us and are partnered with us. You have paid for us, so you might as well take advantage of all our services. “Don’t leave the money on the table.”

Originally published in the Abbeville Meridional; written by Shaun Hearen