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"Urban magic good for jobs"
Downtown recognized as an integral component of Economic Development

As many of you are aware, Downtown Baton Rouge has been very busy with development activity. At our February board meeting we had the privilege to present a number of great private and public projects current underway. We also heard from key organizations regarding the importance a vibrant downtown plays in attracting new businesses, recruiting and retaining talent, and creating "quality conversations."

This is re-iterated in an editorial written in today's Advocate. This piece explains the importance of Downtown's role by a respected New York Times columnist and author. We invite you to read the article as it also references how important Downtown Baton Rouge is, in the current economic development strategy for our city.

Our Views: Urban magic good for jobs
Advocate Opinion page staff
Published: Feb 11, 2011 - Page: 8B

'If you want to compete in a global marketplace, it really helps to be near a downtown."

Those are not the words of Davis Rhorer or other Baton Rouge downtown boosters. It's David Brooks in The New York Times, reiterating that in an age of instant messaging, something in human nature is energized by the dense accumulation of talent in a city.

Much of Brooks' column could have been written about the struggles of Baton Rouge to become a great city centered on a great downtown. Rhorer, director of the Downtown Development District, has been present at the creation of the downtown that is now vastly improved from the almost desolate core of the 1980s.

At a recent DDD meeting, most of the time was consumed by progress reports on new private and public investment in downtown. A concert that might have been the only entertainment item on the DDD agenda a decade ago is now mentioned in passing - because there are so many other things to mention.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber reported on its "creative capital" agenda for the city, and BRAC President Adam Knapp called the new cityscape one of the key factors in bringing new talent to the region.

"Downtown is the living brochure for what we want to do, the calling card for people we want to attract," Knapp said.

But if Brooks' column is a guide to progress in a city, it also has some warnings for Baton Rouge.
One of Brooks' key points: talent. He cited a study in which teams worked on a difficult project. The teams working together only electronically fractured and made less progress than teams working face to face.
But that lesson also is a warning sign: "Companies that are near the geographic center of their industry are more productive," Brooks commented. "Year by year, workers in cities see their wages grow faster than workers outside of cities because their skills grow faster."

If you lose that geographic central point, the jobs can go fast: In New Orleans, there are huge office towers that once housed major offices of oil and gas companies. A significant loss of those white-collar jobs to Houston was one of the pre-Katrina difficulties for the Crescent City, and thus Louisiana.

The issue, as Brooks also pointed out, is not a matter of buildings alone. "For years, cities like Detroit built fancy towers and development projects in the hopes that this would revive the downtown core," Brooks said. "But cities thrive because they host quality conversations, not because they have new buildings and convention centers."

So the challenge for Baton Rouge is not only to build a better downtown, but to promote the quality places that have quality conversations.

We must capitalize on downtown's increasing attraction for the young and talented. A key focus of BRAC's efforts in its five-year plan is entrepreneurs and the "eco-system" of technical assistance and financing to develop small businesses into going concerns, and then reach higher growth targets.
That is a tall order in a variety of ways, but it is also one in line with Brooks' emphasis on the strategic importance of a dense creative core - what our metropolitan area needs even as it grows in our suburban parishes.

Much was made of Baton Rouge growing in the latest census report into what Knapp called "major market" status. But a just-over-line move from "middle-market" to major isn't itself significant.
Baton Rouge can and should be a creative capital. Downtown remains a vital part of our economic strategy.

Please click on the link below to view this article directly on the Advocate's website.

For more information on the Downtown Development District, visit our website.

227 Florida St.  |  Baton Rouge, LA 70801  |  (225) 389-5520 Office (225) 389-5523 Fax  |  8:00 a.m. - 5 p.m. M-F

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