“I can live my dreams here”: Louisiana Central’s Regional Economic Development Summit underway

At the opening of their Economic Regional Development Summit, Louisiana Central looked at new ways to approach making regional development possible.
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 8:25 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Regional development is a primary focus of Louisiana Central, an organization based in Alexandria with a mission of leading the way to growing the region through business and industry investments.

Their annual Regional Economic Development Summit brings together those voices contributing to that process, facilitating a conversation on new ways to make growth possible. The push behind this year’s summit is the ‘big idea playbook,’ a concept Louisiana Central leaders hope encourages Central Louisiana stakeholders and economic players to look at development opportunities from a new perspective.

To set the tone for the summit, Louisiana Central opened the event at Alexandria’s Rotary Club meeting with keynote speaker Ashley Hanson, the executive director of the Department of Transformation in Granite Falls, Minnesota, an organization that aims to combine creativity with civic life.

To that end, Hanson suggested that love, specifically eros, should play a role in how people contribute to their community. Eros, acting like gravity, creates allure and desire, drawing people to the place they inhabit.

Therefore, she said communities must look past just the typical modes of capital when it comes to economic development. Growing communities must look further than financial, cultural and social capital, instead intentionally investing in “erotic capital,” or traits that are desirable in a place to live, as well.

To demonstrate her point, Hanson made an unusual request but one quite fitting for her background as an artist. She asked the audience to ground their feet to the floor, place their hands at their sides and close their eyes. With eyes closed, Hanson asked participants to think deeply about what it feels like to be in love. To be successful, relationships require more than just work but also love. Communities, Hanson argued, function in the same way.

Although the capital of love cannot necessarily be quantifiable or measured, it is essential that people fall in love with the place they live and want others to do the same. Ultimately, love leads to growth.

“The essence of really centering love as one of the things that we might talk about in community and economic development is the ability then to connect with each other and connect with our places, and see things that we haven’t seen potentially with new eyes,” said Hanson. “When you make those connections with each other, alternative futures can be possible.”

Through that, Hanson said communities can shift the mindset of being “flyover” places, which is often the view of rural communities, to being places where people can live their dreams and love to call home.

“How do we expect others to love us if we don’t love ourselves?” asked Hanson.

As a way to do that, Hanson offered up three possible solutions:

  • Look to artists
  • Find out where healing needs to occur and systems need to change
  • Change the narratives by utilizing storytellers who can remind communities of their uniqueness

Louisiana Central Executive Director of Industry Relations Lafe Jones emphasized “place making” or “loving place” is the goal of the summit.

“It takes all of us to do what we need to do to sell this community, to attract more people to this community, to bring more jobs to this community,” said Jones. “It is a team effort, and we want more people to get engaged.”

Throughout the summit, which ends Wednesday afternoon, attendees will hear from speakers across the economic landscape, including the executive director of ConnectLA, several local manufacturers and Todd Henry, an international speaker, best-selling author and consultant.

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