Sept. 12, 2014 08:00 PM
Monday, Sept. 15, 2014

Our trophy shelf is filling up. Lafayette has been named the nation's happiest city, the host of the best World Music festival, the best mid-sized city for job growth and more. We are ranked among the top 20 college towns, made the top 10 list for small American cities of the future, and we are the Tastiest Town in the South. And those are just the latest accolades.

Lafayette's success has been essentially serendipitous up to now. With a few recent exceptions, it evolved with little or no strategic planning. Our success is also tied to our region, which existed de facto since the first Acadians landed here in 1755. Even the moniker of our region came by chance, branded 50 years ago when a New York vendor added an a' to Acadian in an invoice sent to a local TV executive. Commerce and culture connected us for 200 years, but on that day our region finally had a name.

Acadiana's economic strength (and Lafayette's by association) was built on indigenous assets that also came together by chance. Early Cajuns had to innovate to survive in such a wild and foreign place. The bounty of the coastal lands proved valuable, first for fur and fisheries then later for energy, shipping and recreation. Farm communities sprouted along Acadiana's northern prairie on an axis that became the nation's busiest transcontinental commercial land route, first by rail then by interstate. Location. Innovation. Energy. Entrepreneurship. Even the Acadian culture and language, once disparaged and spurned, eventually proved a valuable economic asset.

It is the nature of things that Acadiana, always one in spirit, is divided geopolitically. It is also our nature that despite those divisions we moved forward together as a region, building economic strength on the native assets we share. Across the state, however, formal multi-parish alliances have been formed as economic drivers with substantial budgets, including The Baton Rouge Area Chamber ($4.1 million), The Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance ($1.9 million) and Greater New Orleans Inc. ($5 million-plus). These groups work strategically and regionally, courting business prospects and competing for public dollars and influence at the state and federal level.

Until now, our region has relied on an informal alliance among our regional chambers (The Acadiana Regional Alliance) and our economic development agencies (The Acadiana Economic Development Council). But with a budget of only $400,000, the AEDC lags far behind its counterparts along the 10/12 corridor.

This fall the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce along with other chambers and business leaders in nine parishes will launch One Acadiana, our own investor-led regional economic development driver. This timely new model is designed to increase our competitiveness for jobs and public funding and allow us to formalize our strength as a region. Our native assets and sense of community have brought us a long way together so far, but our future as one will be stronger if we come together in a more strategic way as the One Acadiana we've always been.

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