Sizing up a Super-Region
Launched in May 2009, the Southeast Super-Region Committee consists of 41 members nominated by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Greater New Orleans Inc., which together encompass 19 parishes.
In addition to an overall chairman, the group also names members to chair subcommittees in several priority areas, including higher education, innovation, transportation, marketing and international trade.
The committee's main thrust is to better equip southeast Louisiana to compete for business and jobs with larger metropolitan areas in somewhat the same way as Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle-Tacoma and North Carolina's Research Triangle have done.
Leaders of the Louisiana group say it enables the region to present a united front to political and economic interests, from state and federal government to corporations and business location site selectors. They hope to reduce wasteful competition among southeastern Louisiana cities and parishes by embracing the idea that if one wins, all win.
“It doesn't much matter whether Nucor went to St. James, St. John or Jefferson parish. What matters is that we got Nucor,” outgoing committee Chairman Roger Ogden says, referring to the steel manufacturer that is building a new mill in Convent.
Similar efforts to develop super-regions are occurring around the country. Louisville and Lexington, Ky., are teaming up to focus on developing a hub for high-tech auto manufacturing. A central Florida super-region encompassing the Orlando and Tampa areas is mulling proposals for high-speed rail lines that would connect the state's coasts and many cities in-between.
Closer to home, the cities of Lafayette and Lake Charles recently signed a pact to create the Southwest Louisiana Super-Region.
The Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, which has advised super-region efforts around the country, has researched many aspects of the combinations, including transportation and trade. Amy Liu, a metropolitan policy program director at the institute, worked on recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and is familiar with the development of the Southeast Super-Region Committee.
“I think this is a very important moment for the region and this is the right focus,” she says. But she warns that making the group truly effective will require developing “a rigorous understanding” of how the pieces of the region are connected.
The leadership will need to do extensive analysis to understand the extent to which the communities share a workforce, how many people commute from one place to another, and how well local school systems are serving the needs of the region's businesses and much more, she says.
“The activities of the Super-Region Committee have to be different from what the Baton Rouge chamber or Greater New Orleans Inc. would do on their own,” she says.
“This is about what they will do together that they wouldn't do by themselves.”
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