Area business leaders agree to preach the value of regional cooperation

A group of nearly 200 Louisiana leaders said Tuesday they will return to southeast Louisiana with plans to communicate the value of a “super region” to the larger community.

The comments came on the final day of a three-day trip aimed at exploring opportunities for New Orleans and Baton Rouge to collaborate on economic development initiatives by studying the way Tampa and Orlando work together,

They also intend to create a list of assets in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma and Thibodaux from which to grow, and to find a way to engage the community on crime, among other things.

GNO Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Hecht said the Southeast Super-Region Committee will codify the “action items” identified by the group Tuesday and take the lead on moving those plans forward.

Finer details — such as when the various initiatives will be tackled and how the work will be paid for — were left undecided as the group left Orlando.

“I think we’ve had some really big ideas to hear about and think about and a lot to go home to do,” said Marty Mayer, co-chairman of the Super-Region Committee.

The committee’s members include government and private-sector leaders from the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metropolitan areas.

“The purpose of this is not to leave these ideas here,” he said.

Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, who also co-chairs the committee, said she hopes the trip leads to a visionary plan that will be adopted by both cities.

She said it was a first step toward connecting the cities to create a super region.

“It’s really not about what we do,” Thomas said. “It’s about how we do it. And what we need is a coordinated, collaborative effort.”

Attendees said they came away impressed by the visionary leadership in Tampa and Orlando that, for instance, has created a transportation plan that projects 30 years into the future.

About 170 government, business and nonprofit leaders from Baton Rouge and New Orleans flew to Florida on Sunday as part of the 2013 Super Region Canvas, a three-day trip to learn how Orlando, Tampa and other cities in central Florida have worked together to improve the region’s digital-media and health-care industries and to attack issues such as crime and poor transportation.

The seminars featured leaders of companies, public agencies and economic development organizations from the Tampa and Orlando areas.

The mission was arranged by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Greater New Orleans Inc.

GNO Inc. and BRAC form the Southeast Super-Region Committee, which works to facilitate cooperation between the two cities on projects that would benefit both.

The final day of discussions focused on airports and crime.

As Louisiana continues to struggle to land international flights at Louis Armstrong International Airport, state leaders sought guidance from Tampa, which recently nailed down direct service to London, Zurich and Panama.

The central Florida city’s secret weapon is a hefty and varied incentive package that includes fee waivers, cash and in-kind donations, said Joe Lopano, chief executive officer of Tampa International Airport.

“When you go in to your boss and say, ‘Look, we can fly into either New Orleans and they’re giving me nothing, or we can fly to Tampa and they’re giving me a million and a half dollars,’ it’s easy for the boss to say, ‘Go to Tampa, because even if we lose money, we’ve got a million and a half head start,’” Lopano said. “Those kinds of things mean something to the airlines.”

The New Orleans airport unveiled an ambitious redevelopment plan this year that includes a new terminal and a hotel on the north side of the current airport.

The $650 million terminal is scheduled to open in 2018 for the city’s 300th anniversary, said Aviation Board member Roger Ogden.

The design for the new terminal will be finalized by the end of the year, he said.

“It will bring that world-class front-porch arrival to the region that we all have wanted for so long,” Ogden said.

As for the elusive international flights, Lopano said the New Orleans airport needs first to demonstrate the benefits that international flights will have for the community. Tampa had an analysis done to show that the addition of international service would be worth 1,200 new jobs.

The next step is to properly target markets, Lopano said. “You want to go where the people are,” he said. “We are not targeting flights to Abu Dhabi or Dubai or Mumbai.”

Tampa ruled those cities out by studying the origination and destination airports for flights purchased in Tampa area ZIP codes, Lopano said.

What arguably made the biggest difference was offering as much as $2.5 million in landing-fee waivers over two years to airlines that bring new international service to Tampa, he said.

The business community also kicks in as much as $1 million in cash and in-kind services for those deals.

In addition to airports, panel discussions on the event’s final day focused on crime reduction. A panel that included Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III and New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche answered questions about the root causes of crime, tactics for prevention and how best to allocate limited resources.

The panel pointed to poor education, the economy, “cultures of retaliation” and reduced funding for services like mental health as causes of crime.

The Tampa Police Department deals with those causes by working regularly with prosecutors to discuss cases and with mental health groups and those that work to prevent homelessness in order to come up with crime-prevention tactics for those populations.

“It’s not a time to exchange business cards at a crisis,” Castor said.

Tampa reduced crime by nearly 66 percent from 2002 to 2012.

Ten years ago, Tampa held the nation’s second-worst crime record for a city its size, Castor said.

So the Police Department was decentralized and divided into three geographic areas, each with its own department and analysts to provide daily data to track crime.

The department focused on reducing four types of crime: burglary, robbery, auto burglary and auto theft.

As a result, from 2002 to 2012, the burglary rate fell by 61 percent, robbery by 75 percent, auto burglary by 73 percent and auto theft by 91 percent.

To achieve those gains, the police force focused on efforts like engaging with the community, using data to stay ahead of crime trends and putting sanctions, like a curfew, on “worst of the worst” young criminals who might begin with crimes like auto theft and graduate to aggravated battery or murder.

Tampa has nearly 1,000 officers, who earn a minimum salary of $47,000. Castor said she considers it “very, very, very dangerous” that New Orleans is struggling to build its police force.