Brief Overview and Analysis of the Northshore Visioning Project

The Northshore Visioning Project is the initiative of the Northshore Community Foundation, who formed a task force comprised of representatives of the private and public sectors.  The task force was formed to answer the question of what the region should look like in twenty years, creating a vision that maintains the desirability of the Northshore through a Regional Visioning Process.
The $90,000 dollar Strategic Plan by SSA Consultants of Baton Rouge contains some very interesting observations on the process of economic development, some of which has been covered in local media.  Two of the bigger points of contention so far have been the merging of the East and West Chambers of Commerce and the question of how to handle the Tourist Commission.
The following passage is a condensed overview of the Interview Findings and Task Force Results:
There is a dilution of civic leadership and a strain on resources and funding due to the large number of non profits and civic organizations on the Northshore.  Some reported a desire to see more representation from Washington and Tangipahoa Parishes in regional efforts.  At the same time, respondents said interplay between the Northshore Region and other economic development organizations is confusing, specifically citing the examples of GNO, Inc. and the LA Department of Economic Development.  Other findings include the recognition that there is a wide divergence of opinion on the role and scope of economic development, and the maintenance of the region’s quality of life is a high priority.
With a particular interest in the mechanism of economic development in the Parish, the next recommendation is particularly interesting:
“The first steps involved in moving toward a more high impact regional model would entail the consolidation of the organizations that have the similar missions and programmatic elements.  The first opportunity rests with the consolidation of the St. Tammany Parish Economic Development Foundation (STEDF), the St. Tammany Parish Development District and the St. Tammany Parish Economic Development Department.  The ability to leverage the strengths of each of these entities… cannot be underestimated.”       (Hybrid Model/Merging Elements)

The significance of this suggestion is that a large portion of Covington Weekly’s interest in the process of economic development has centered directly around the specific role of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation.  It is the opinion of Covington Weekly that every individual paying taxes, whether a private citizen or business owner, is a stakeholder in local economic development, giving each said individual a say in that process.
“…the elimination of duplicated programs and services and the redeployment of those funds will provide an immediate improvement in the efficient and effective use of public and private dollars.”   (emphasis mine)
Identification of a need to improve the way that public dollars are used is also suggestive of a need for greater transparency with regard to public dollars in the realm of economic development. This has been one of the main points of divergence with issues addressed in CW and how the economic development process actually operates in St. Tammany Parish.
According to the St. Tammany Parish Development District Board of Commissioners Minutes, October 13, 2016:  “Chadwick Collings provided an overview of the Northshore Community Foundation’s Visioning Project.  The report offered no concrete recommendations, but does discuss the possible dissolution of STEDF with the District taking on STEDF’s role.  Legally it is possible, but there are numerous legislative/policy issues that would need to be addressed.”
The following is excerpted from the section, Key Priorities for the Northshore 2016-2020:
“There is a significant schism between the “no growth” or “slow growth” advocates and those who see the future being shaped by the attraction of manufacturers and greater industrial site development… the anti growth factions and well publicized protests and lawsuits will push away the best and most attractive companies.  St. Tammany Parish and the Northshore could find it increasingly difficult to find companies and jobs that will fit their desired mold and will not threaten the region’s quality of life.” (emphasis mine)
Again, it should be pointed out that although differences of opinion exist, those differences of opinion have just as much legitimacy as a briefcase full of money.  A lot of time is spent talking about quality of life, which is generally subjective depending on who is responding.
After five years of promoting and participating in the great events happening in downtown Covington, business owners and citizens continue to ask why the Parish is so intent on pouring millions of development dollars in outlying areas, which will only compete with municipal activities, while our historic downtown area still has vacant commercial space available.  A simple suggestion for the whole “visioning process” –  more inclusive public input.
Timothy Gates, CW Correspondent 985-288-9609