LEDA/Opportunity Machine

It's Our Front Yard

by Patrick Flanagan

Let's show how much we care what it looks like.

It's not every day that you get to be a part of a cultural change that transforms the landscape of your community, but that's exactly what is happening in Lafayette right now with the launch of Project Front Yard.

In late September, UL Lafayette President Joe Savoie and Carlee Alm-LaBar, assistant to City-Parish President Joey Durel, helped roll out Project Front Yard, a community-wide initiative to create a cleaner, more appealing "front yard."

Project Front Yard is an initiative that brings together business,  government, education and the media to address what our community looks like. Its mission is to build awareness and stimulate improvement of the community's front yard. The September press conference that introduced the program featured 18 speakers who are passionate about the future of Lafayette Parish and who understand that with everything Lafayette has going for it, our residents and visitors shouldn't have to literally look past trash to see the true beauty of the region.

Community aesthetics is more than just litter on the side of the road. It's about visual pollution - snipe signs and overgrown grass and bushes in front of businesses. It's about non-existent or unattractive gateways into the community. It's about integrating green infrastructure as the community grows. It's about encouraging and supporting public art projects. It's about community pride.

These issues are important to everyone - the businesses who operate here, our residents, and our prospective businesses, their employees and people who may move to the region.

In 2012, LEDA hosted a group of 40 CEOs from the area to discuss what's great in Lafayette Parish and the opportunities they saw for improvement. The single issue that quickly came to the forefront was litter and beautification. Jerry Vascocu spoke about his first impression and concerns about Lafayette when he came to the area with IberiaBank. Other attendees told stories about potential transfers who initially had reservations about Lafayette. As an economic developer, this is not something you want to hear about the community you work so hard to promote and improve.

Community beautification efforts were already on Joey Durel's radar largely because of the litter concerns brought forward by Matt Stuller. The passion demonstrated about litter and beautification by Vascocu (IberiaBank), Dave Welch (Stone Energy) and Greg Manuel (Manuel Builders) during the CEO meeting was further confirmation that the community needed, and was ready for, a change.

IberiaBank exec Jerry Vascocu says the bank has funded door decals for businesses that pledge to do their part to make Project Front Yard a success.

So, not only is this initiative about cleaning up the community, it's about community competitiveness, which is something we think about at LEDA every day. What is it that makes a community someplace people want to live? What makes a community attractive to new business?

LEDA's Lafayette Benchmarking Report measures many of the attributes that contribute to Lafayette's desirability as a place to live and do business. The traditional measures of population growth, available workforce and taxing structure are tangible and easily measured and reported. It's the intangible elements - the community's joie de vivre and wildcatter spirit - that are harder to quantify in traditional methods. Very often, these intangible elements play a huge role in the decision-making process for business and individuals.

Research shows that elements such as community appearance and green space impact business recruitment and relocation efforts. Dr. Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist at the University of Washington who specializes in urban forests and ecosystems, says her research supports the idea that the increased quality of life that can result from community appearance can be a driving factor in determining where a business may locate. But we already know that don't we?

That is why Project Front Yard is so important to LEDA and our business development efforts. Project Front Yard gives the community a way to ensure we will be the best Lafayette we can be. I'm calling on the business community to rally behind the initiative and participate in the Business Decal program. I'm calling on civic groups to demonstrate their community pride by supporting service projects, public art projects and park projects. I'm calling on residents to take pride in the appearance of the whole community, not just your personal yard and neighborhood.

Time and time again, we've seen that by working together we can accomplish almost anything in Lafayette. By taking part in this community pride effort, we will make Lafayette the most successful Lafayette possible - together.

Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.