In the realm of economic development, it is imperative to always think, long-term, while acting with great flexibility. In my years at the Bossier Chamber of Commerce, I have seen this play out in front of my eyes.
In the mid 2000s, I became aware of the possibility of the U.S. Air Force launching a major command in the area, with a cyber focus. It was brought to my attention by those at the Bossier Parish Police Jury and the Bossier City Council.
Those in economic development circles began talks of creating a “Cyber Innovation Center” to compliment the needs of this potential new command. It all had to be kept as quiet as possible so that other states, etc. would not catch wind of it.
As things progressed, word got out and every “expert” put in their two-cents worth. Pundits used terms like “waste” and “albatross” to describe the efforts. Ultimately the U.S. Air Force decided to locate AF Cyber Command in Texas and folks thought Bossier :but the big one,”
Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Air Force Global Strike Command would be standing up at Barksdale in 2009. The new Cyber Innovation Center continued to move forward, with ultimate plans for a National Cyber Research Park.
To make a long story short, a lot has happened in the past seven years. The mission of the Cyber Innovation Center shifted a bit to accommodate the changing market conditions, and today, the National Cyber Research Park is not only a reality, it is growing by leaps and bounds. This is an oversimplified timeline of the events, however, the truth behind it all remains clear, long-term planning, with flexibility.
In Webster Parish, we are in need of some economic development wins. We need industries to locate in our towns’ industrial parks, and at Camp Minden. So, how do we attract these industries? The answer is the same: long-term planning and flexibility.
I am often reminded of the lost opportunities of the past due to short-term thinking. Many are quick to point out the college that would eventually become Louisiana Tech University considered Minden as a location.
I am told of another missed opportunity for an 18-hole golf course in Minden in the 1980s due to some disagreements about a clubhouse.
While the reasons behind these, and other missed opportunities may have been very valid at the time, one has the wonder what long-term effect they would have had on our community — both positive and negative.
It is important for those in public office, and those in economic development, to always take a long-term approach when considering opportunities. What is in the best long-term interest of the community should be paramount in the consideration.
It reminds me of another opportunity involving the building of our Wal-Mart Supercenter. Many in the community lamented the 24-hour nature of the store, the proximity of the location to residences, etc. However, the Minden Metropolitan Planning Commission and City Council saw the long-term benefits of the store.
Regardless of your personal views about Wal-Mart, it is still a major employer in Minden, and a huge sales tax provider. Our tax base is a little broader because they are here. And, with the closing of the Homer Wal-Mart several years ago, Minden has become a shopping destination for many in Claiborne Parish.
As we enter 2017, I encourage our elected officials to see beyond the immediate future (and push back from some in the community) to the lasting legacy of economic development in Minden and Webster Parish. It is long past time for us to start growing again.
David Specht is president of Specht Newspapers Inc. He may be reached via email at email@example.com.