In a column late last year I stressed the importance of regionalism and teamwork. I pointed out how critically important it was to see our parish as a part of a larger region. But, not all economic development happens at a regional level. Some projects only mean something to the companies involved, while others only really affect the community they serve. Local economic development is just as complex as its regional counterpart, but surprisingly enough, sometimes it can be much harder. Louisiana politics have been the butt of several jokes, but doing what’s right for your town and for your constituents is no laughing matter. Local governments in Vermilion take their jobs very seriously. Whether we are dealing with the Police Jury or a small water district, it’s easy to see how passionate people are about the place they call home.

In my short tenure as economic development director I’ve been able to experience first-hand how committed, public servants can make amazing things happen for their communities through one basic practice…collaboration. Some might think this is simple, a no-brainer, but historically small towns can mean small mindedness. Luckily, that’s not the case for us! Our mayors, councils, and other elected officials have demonstrated to me that they understand how important it is to success.

A great example of collaboration at work is underway right now in Erath. Mayor John Earl LeBlanc has become a great friend to me in the past year and a half. We message for holidays, check on each other’s families, and both have our sights set high for this beautiful community. He came to me a few months ago and pushed me to understand the town he has served for several decades now. We talked about goals and issues from the past, tragedies and renaissance. He understands local economic development. He eats, sleeps and breathes Erath. But, Mayor LeBlanc knows that’s not enough. He understands that sometimes resources, expertise, and timing can weigh more heavily than love and tenacity. He knows that even the best intentions mean nothing without meaningful partnerships and constant communication.

Conveniently for Mayor LeBlanc, he’s not alone.

Dr. Lori Toups, an Erath native, longed to come home and serve the community where she grew up. As a pediatrician with Pediatric Group of Acadiana she saw countless Vermilion Parish residents traveling to Iberia and Lafayette Parishes for pediatric healthcare. Together with her Nurse Practitioner, Shawntel Moore, she began exploring the possibilities of moving her practice “home.” She knew Mayor LeBlanc was an invaluable resource, but no amount of “support” could make the project happen.

With some very thoughtful reflection, Mayor LeBlanc did what any great local economic developer would do. He asked for help! With the assistance of our office and the board of the Twin Parish Port Commission, the Mayor was able to explore the possibility of providing utilities to the north side of LA Highway 14 – an area with development potential based on its proximity to Youngsville and New Iberia and with few flooding issues. Our office was able to substantiate the improvements with data collected on revenues lost and gaps in services. Our research told us that this investment was not only smart, but necessary to prevent any more revenue losses. As a taxing entity, the port commission board was able to make infrastructure improvements in Erath’s city limits, which meant options for Dr. Toups (and other business owners). With funding from a local millage, the blessing of DOTD, the assistance of the property owner, and hard work of Erath city workers, utilities were run under LA Highway 14 making it possible for commercial customers to “tap in.”

In the end, Dr. Toups was able to occupy a beautiful piece of property which will hopefully be home to many more businesses for Erath. At her ribbon cutting in February she thanked the people of Erath, the mayor specifically, for his willingness to help. What she may not realize is how intricate the web of help really is – how many calls and meetings and conversations were necessary to make this all happen.
But here’s the thing, we’re happy to do it. Because all have one goal – to make Vermilion the best it can possibly be. We’re abandoning our respective kingdoms and humbling ourselves for the good of our communities. We’re asking for help, and sometimes demanding it (with good intentions, of course) in order to bring great things to the people of Vermilion. Collaboration is key and we have a great team to make it all happen!

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