One of the biggest tests facing Louisiana’s recently elected Governor John Bel Edwards is the challenge of re-instilling pride in the attitudes of many Louisianans.
Government can only do so much. But a governor can be a catalyst in raising the public’s expectations.
The whole focus of public accountability and local pride came to mind recently on a visit to Charlotte, North Carolina. Now I do admit a bit of favorable prejudice toward the Tar Heel State, having graduated from Chapel Hill back in the 60s. And 60 years ago, many observers linked North Carolina and Louisiana as the two southern states with the greatest potential for economic growth and a higher quality of life in the South.
Both states had a strong agricultural base, with tobacco being king in Carolina and both cotton and sugar cane offering farmers a good living in Louisiana. It was textiles in Carolina and oil Louisiana. The two great university presses in the South were located at Chapel Hill and Baton Rouge with major American literary figures concentrated around the two great state universities.
But an economic downturn hit both states in the late 1970s. North Carolina quickly diversified and centered its future economic development on an innovative research triangle that attracted startup businesses all over the state. High oil prices enticed Louisiana to keep the status quo. And things haven’t changed much.
Several Louisiana cities have recently sent groups of business leaders and public officials around the country to observe what seems to be working in other cities. They would do well to make a pilgrimage to Charlotte. Here is what they would find.
One of the first things you notice is the cleanliness, not just in Charlotte, but throughout much of the state. There are exceptions. But by and large, you just don’t see the litter that seems to cover Louisiana.
A few months ago, a former Louisiana State Senator was a guest on my syndicated radio show. He told the story of his efforts to bring a Japanese automobile plant to Northeast Louisiana. The Senator had picked up the Japanese officials in Shreveport and drove them to the plant site some 20 miles east of Monroe. He and his group made what they thought was a first-rate presentation, but the Japanese decided to go elsewhere. When he followed up the visit to find out why Louisiana was turned down, he was given two reasons. First was the lack of a trained workforce. But just as important, was the liter along the highways. He was told: “Your people do not seem to take much pride in keeping their state clean.”
A brand-new monorail system has just opened in Charlotte, traveling throughout the downtown area and linking all the major hotels to the convention center. Congestion throughout the inner city has been greatly reduced, and I found it to be a quick and easy way to travel.
Charlotte, as well as a number of other North Carolina cities, is in the process of becoming “wired.” Even midsize cities like Winston Salem are installing wireless broadband networks. As one city official told me: “We are trying to differentiate our North Carolina cities from other locations as we are competing for those knowledge-based companies. If your city is not wired up, you’re just not going to be competitive.” As has been written here in several recent columns, Internet access, particularly for students statewide, could be the single biggest asset toward moving Louisiana’s lackluster educational system literally giant steps forward.
The bottom line, Governor Edwards, is that in setting out your new agenda, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are a number of progressive ideas emanating from cities and states all over the country. Many of these ideas will require a major financial investment. But others, like keeping our roadways clean, are simply a matter of instilling a sense of personal responsibility. That’s where pride begins.
“If you love Louisiana, she’ll love you back.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.
You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.