Rotary Club gets updated on input on the city’s revitalization efforts
Weeks after a series of town hall meetings were held in Ville Platte to discuss the city’s revitalization efforts, Dr. Geoff Stewart from the Moody College of Business at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette addressed last week’s meeting of the Ville Platte Rotary Club.
The purpose of his presentation was to provide an update on what was discussed during the town hall meetings and to collect input from the Rotarians on how to proceed.
According to Dr. Stewart, the project here started when his masters of business administration (MBA) students teamed up with the Evangeline Parish Foundation “to look at what we do have here, what are the interests here in Ville Platte and in the parish, and how do we start to move forward.”
He continued, “This type of project is not new to our university. We’ve done it with some other communities before. We worked with the City of Crowley and some other towns like Delcambre after the hurricanes.”
From there, Dr. Stewart went into what was discussed at the town hall meetings. As he explained, the big topic was music and how it can drive the economy.
“When we talked about music a couple weeks ago, it was phenomenal how the audience just lit up,” he said. “When culture came up, it was a completely different energy in the room with respect to the way people wanted to talk about it. You could feel the pride.”
As he further explained, the music can help bring tourists away from Lafayette and into Evangeline Parish. The tourists will then in turn stay at Chicot State Park for the weekend.
Dr. Stewart then touched on government programs available to help preserve that aspect of the Evangeline Parish culture. “When it comes to the music,” he expressed, “there are all sorts of programs. New Orleans has a lot of programs that are tied to jazz, but, over the years, they’ve expanded and are now looking at any types of music in the state of Louisiana.”
Besides the music culture, Dr. Stewart told the Rotary Club another big topic discussed during the town hall meetings was the labor force.
“Evangeline Parish is the only parish in Louisiana that does not have a single school that participates in the Leader in Me (https://www.leaderinme.org/) program,” he commented. “Leader in Me is a program that takes The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and, starting in Pre-K and Kindergarten, applies it in an elementary school setting to try to help build leadership and discipline skills. This program has worked tremendously across Acadiana.”
Other areas discussed over the course of the town hall meetings, as Dr. Stewart told the Rotary Club included the need to four-lane U.S. Highway 167. He said, “We don’t have any preconceived notions whether that is possible or impossible. So, right now, my students are confused and in a fog. They’re probably not going to come out of the fog until the end of the semester, but that’s what research is all about.”
Dr. Stewart then devoted his presentation to hearing what issues were important to the Rotary Club members.
Ville Platte Mayor and Rotarian Jennifer Vidrine commented,
“Part of the vision is to create a community that will make people want to get off of I-49 and make it worth their while to drive the 18 miles on Hwy 167 into Ville Platte.”
Dr. Stewart used Mayor Vidrine’s remarks to find out what the Rotarians thought would attract such people to Ville Platte. The responses smoked meat, the Swamp Pop Museum, and Chicot State Park.
As for the smoked meat, Dr. Stewart said, “Look at what Scott has done with boudin on the interstate. It’s ridiculous. Somedays people are standing outside and in line for an hour. They figured out something and started marketing around it. It became a part of their identity.”
Another attraction that was discussed to get people off the interstate is the Ville Platte Farmers Market beginning on Friday, March 15, and continuing on the third Friday of every month.
Dr. Stewart told the Rotary Club how successful the farmers market has been in Delcambre. “It’s small and is one weekend of the month,” he explained. “They figured out a way to make it their own. They don’t have smoked meat, but they have shrimp and seafood. They’ll have a shrimp boat that comes in, and they’ll sell shrimp off the dock. There’s a lot of civic pride and a lot of cultural preservation in it because you have three generations selling shrimp stuffed bell peppers. It’s small things that make a difference.”
He continued by saying his team will be at the farmers market here on March 15. “We found out USDA has a funding program specifically for farmers markets,” said Dr. Stewart. “We’re going to have a little booth and will be asking questions. The big thing we’re trying to do is being able to document and see how many people come to the farmers market and be able to leverage that in a grant application to go out and get funding for that farmers market.”