BRAC, GNO Inc. plan first canvass trip

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Greater New Orleans Inc. will team up for a trip later this year to visit a metropolitan area with two major cities to get ideas on how to build ties and develop a super-regional economic development policy.

Adam Knapp, BRAC president and CEO, announced plans for the joint canvass trip Wednesday at the organization’s annual shareholders meeting.

“In the coming weeks, we will build a closer bond together,” Knapp said at the meeting, held in the Renaissance Hotel.

The destination and dates for the trip will be announced in early April, said Lauren Hatcher, a BRAC spokeswoman.

BRAC has organized seven canvass trips since 2003, visiting cities such as Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; and Louisville, Ky., to get ideas on ways to improve the Capital Region. The trips have allowed business and community leaders to observe new practices for economic and civic development.

Knapp said the breakfast event was called a shareholder’s meeting, since it gave BRAC a chance to let members know how the organization was investing their money, by outlining the projects it was focusing on.

One of BRAC’s main focuses for the upcoming year is tax reform. Knapp said the organization will play a role in debating Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plans to overhaul the state tax system.

“We would like to see an elimination of the corporate franchise tax,” Knapp said.

Taxes were on the mind of the event’s keynote speaker, Bruce Josten, executive vice president, government affairs, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Josten, the No. 2 person at the nation’s leading business lobby, was a late addition. BRAC announced Tuesday evening that Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber, was ill and wouldn’t be able to make the breakfast.

Josten said Republicans in the House of Representatives and Democrats in the Senate have radically different views on taxes and spending. The views are so far apart, they may be incompatible.

The stark partisan differences are made worse because so many members of Congress were elected by comfortable margins. Ninety-six percent of congressional Democrats were elected in districts that President Barack Obama carried easily in November, while 94 percent of congressional Republicans come from districts that were easily carried by the GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

“They don’t fear challenges from the other party,” Josten said. “What they do fear is an inter-party challenge.”

That has forced Republicans further right and Democrats to go more to the left, he said.

While congressional gridlock is likely to continue, the U.S. is on the verge of a significant change, thanks to technology in the energy industry and finds of natural gas and shale oil deposits.

By 2015, the country is on track to be the leading producer of natural gas, surpassing Russia; and by 2019, U.S. oil production should outstrip that of Saudi Arabia, he said.

Josten said the U.S. needs to treat its energy resources like Canada does: as an important natural asset for national economic development. But he said energy exploration is happening on private property and not offshore or on land owned by the U.S. government. He blamed the Obama administration with failing to have a well-rounded energy policy.