Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, City of Baton Rouge
Justin R. Ehrenwerth, President and CEO, Water Institute of the Gulf
Russell Richardson, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. We’re very pleased to have Sharon Weston Broome, the mayor-president of Baton Rouge, with us today. She is also joined by Justin Ehrenwerth, the president and CEO of the Water Institute of the Gulf, and Russell Richardson, senior vice president of the business – of business development, excuse me, of the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce.
I’m going to turn the program over to them in just a moment. Just a few housekeeping items before I start. We’ll ask them to make their remarks and then we’ll turn the program over to Q&A. When we do, if you could please just do the courtesy of stating your name and your media affiliation. Can you silence your cell phones? And then just as a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record and we will share a transcript as soon as it’s available.
So with that, the floor is yours.
MS BROOME: Thank you so much, and I’m delighted to be here today to talk about the city that I serve as mayor-president – Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I’m sure some of you all have a frame of reference about our city and what we call parish, or counties. But I’ll tell you a little bit about Baton Rouge. It stands for “red stick,” and of course that came about as explorers, French explorers were in our area. And prior to that, Native Americans had some debate about the – who owned or who would have what property, and they put a red stick in the ground. And so when French explorers came and found that red stick, and decided to name Baton Rouge, and thus we have “red stick” for the region.
And Baton Rouge is a very unique – the capital region is a very unique area in that we have a combination of what we call Cajun and Creole culture in Baton Rouge. As you know, I am the president of the parish, or county, and the mayor of the city. So we have a form of government that combines the two. I’ll be introducing you to Russell and Justin, who are an integral part of our presentation today. Russell deals with economic development; Justin, of course, is the CEO of the Water Institute, something we’re very proud of, an entity in Baton Rouge that – a water campus that is uniquely designed and intimately involved in water management not only here in the United States of America but is recognized internationally as well.
So let me tell you a little bit more about Baton Rouge. So we are the fifth-largest city on the Mississippi River, and we are the largest parish. As you can see on the PowerPoint, we are the hub of a nine-parish region. And of course, there’s another city, not too far from us, that people often reference and talk about visiting, and that’s the city of New Orleans, which is about an hour from Baton Rouge. And so we call New Orleans and Lafayette, which is about an hour west of Baton Rouge – we call Lafayette Cajun Country, and of course New Orleans is often referred to as the Big Easy. But we are the hub of the metropolitan area of the region. And of course, there’s something else that’s real big in Baton Rouge in our capital city that you may hear about, and that is football. If you know anything about the SEC, Baton Rouge is the home of Louisiana State University. So football is a very integral part of the fabric of Baton Rouge. It is also home of Southern University, where you may know about the Human Jukebox, one of the most noted marching bands. And Southern is one of the largest HBCUs, or historically black universities as well.
So Baton Rouge is not a place that you just pass through. If you come to Baton Rouge, you are going to want to stop there. And so that speaks to the fact that we are home to the second highest percentage of native folks who have been born in Baton Rouge, native residents. And for those who love Louisiana, Baton Rouge is a great place to call home.
I have a very unique story myself in that I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and my parents were part of the first wave of the Great Migration. My father was from Louisiana, my mother was from Mississippi, both from Southern towns. They migrated to Chicago; I was born and raised there. And then my dad decided after being in Chicago for decades that he could no longer tolerate the cold weather. So you might say that he re-migrated back to the South and to Louisiana, his home. And so I have spent 40 years now in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and never thought one time about returning to Chicago. (Laughter.)
So let’s talk a little bit more about what Baton Rouge has to offer. We are about 840,000 population in the region. And as you can see, we’re tackling a lot of big issues. We believe in Baton Rouge, and a lot of local governments you will find out, we’re charting the course for our own destiny. We certainly believe in collaboration with our federal and state partners, but we also recognize that we, as a local government, have to take the initiative to advance our personal and our local agenda to empower the citizens that we serve. But we’ve got some great things going on in Baton Rouge; of course, we were recognized as one of the top 10 cities for millennials by Brookings, which is pretty good. And if you look at my staff, if you come and visit us – which you’re welcome to – you will find that the majority of my senior staff members fall in that millennial category. I may be among the oldest there. My CAO and I, we’re the Baby Boomers, surrounded by millennials. (Laughter.)
But Baton Rouge has been noted for being one the top 10 digital cities for the fourth year in a row by the Center for Digital Government. And our population has been growing. We anticipate another growth spurt by 2020 of about 7,000 individuals. And so the digital format and technology is certainly an integral of what we do in Baton Rouge and how we approach our challenges and how we approach our goals and aspirations. We are very data-driven; data is very important to us. And so our city parish government, our information – IT department has helped us develop a GIS mapping system where – that we use to identify issues and to come up with data-driven solutions, solutions surrounding and information surrounding blight, surrounding crime, surrounding water management even, and you’ll hear a little bit more about that.
And so we’re definitely poised for growth. Our regional average income is growing at a rate of about 29 percent, has been over the last decade. And so we have a very diverse economy in Baton Rouge. And in fact, our economy was ranked in the top 1.8 percent. So what are the different industries that we have? We have the trade and transportation, we have education. As I told you, we have a strong higher education institutions there, and government – we’re the hub of government, being a capital city, which certainly makes us unique in the nation as well. Our construction industry is booming. We have a lot of growth and development taking place, a very big initiative; we’re about to embark on a $1.2 billion initiative surrounding roads, transportation, and traffic mitigation that is going to change the trajectory of our city and our area as well. And so professional and business services, leisure, and hospitality.
So I’m glad to know that we have a very diverse economy that touches a lot of different individuals. So I often tell people, if you have a desire to grow, to thrive, to prosper, that you can find a space in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
So I – yesterday I’ve had the opportunity to talk at the Smart Cities conference, because our city has been recognized as a smart city because, as I shared with you, we are a data-driven city. Our programs reflect that. Also, we recognize that strong cities have a – are strong with equity and inclusion. So that’s a part of the fabric of our community that we are growing and continue to talk about. I talked about our specialized data tools. Usually, I can talk philosophically about our goals and our aspirations and what we’re achieving in Baton Rouge, but let me tell you, when I start giving data and statistics, people’s eyes get real big. I can give a very impassioned plea and speech and just get inspirational and motivational, but until I say we – we filled 3,000 potholes in Baton Rouge, that’s when I get the applause. (Laughter.) And we’ve been able to identify that through our mapping system and our technology.
We’ve been able to identify where blight is. You – if you’ve dealt with any other cities, blight is a topic of conversation. And so we’ve mapped through our 311 information center over 9,000 calls surrounding blight, and we are addressing them. We have an initiative when we talk about equitable growth. Our emphasis is on reinvesting and uplifting disinvested communities, and one of our main projects that we are very proud of that we’ve partnered with our redevelopment authority and our capital area transit system is our Plank Road corridor project, which is going to revitalize a disinvested community that has been the heart of an area called North Baton Rouge for centuries, right. We call it the Plank Road corridor, and it got the name Plank Road because years ago, it was a main corridor of transportation during the agrarian society, and many people would travel that in horse and buggy and it was literally a plank road, right. And so now here we are in the 21st century. We’ve seen an up-and-down spiral of that area. Now we want to reinvest because there is a lot – there are a number – a great population that exists there that wants to stay there and wants to see their community thrive and prosper. So we are doing the Plank Road corridor program and integrating a bus rapid transit system in there.
And as we talk about transportation and infrastructure, I shared we are about to embark on a $1.4 billion capital region transportation infrastructure project with our MOVEBR, that coupled with our Mississippi River bridge widening for I-10, but we’re looking at transportation from a multi-modal lens. So we recognize that people need to be able to get around in their cars, but we also are encouraging folks to look at other options, and we have a bike share program that’s going to be a part of the fabric of our community. We just announced the results of a poll that show there are citizens in this region and are very excited and welcome a rail between – a train between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that people could take. So we’re looking at how we can launch that and make that a reality. So we are definitely advancing as it relates to transportation.
As I shared with you, we have LSU, we have Southern University, Baton Rouge Community College, and other higher – institutions of higher education, which help create a really unique and diverse fabric for our community. You will hear soon about a very unique facility in our water campus, but what we’re trying to do is get people from our institutions – through our institutions, I should say – and into the workforce. So when we look at our institutions, we’re looking at how do we create programs that will put our students on a trajectory of success in the workplace. And so we collaborate a lot with our institutions. And we have a renewed focus on quality of place, recognizing that that’s what people look at when they want to live in a city, raising our wages, looking at that. And of course, as I shared earlier, we have a very diverse economy. So I believe that our region is definitely postured to retain and attract new talent as well.
So, water. Water is a part – is a way of life in Baton Rouge and in Louisiana, like snow is a part of life here in the wintertime in New York. We’ve been challenged with water management, but we’ve come up with some viable solutions. That’s what we do in Baton Rouge: we solve problems. And one of the problems that we’re solving is through the Water Institute, and you’ll hear a little bit more about that. Of course, we have LSU, which is known for a research institution, and we also have Pennington Biomedical Center, which is world-renowned for the work that they are doing in a lot of different spaces in healthcare to come up with viable solutions to major healthcare challenges, including obesity, high blood pressure, et cetera. They are world-renowned for the research that they do.
And so now I am going to ask Russell to talk a little bit about our economy and a number of the people that make up the fabric of our economy in Baton Rouge.
MR RICHARDSON: Well, thank you, Mayor. So, yeah, Russell Richardson. I head up the business development department for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. We are the economic development organization for the non-parish region. Our job is to recruit new businesses and help the existing businesses in the region, get them the resources they need to bring their investments to fruition. The mayor talked a little bit about the different ownerships of Louisiana as it came along in history. If you look at our economy now, think about global companies, particularly in the petrochemical industry. We go from the French, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, all these different companies that have ownership in our region through these companies up and down the river. You can pick any of these global – we either have – they’re either foreign-owned or they’re a domestic company that has a global footprint – the Exxons, the Dows, the Shintechs, Shell, all these companies up and down the river. Over the next four to five years, there’ll be over $20 billion worth of investment in our region in those companies in that sector.
So that leads me to the next slide, Kelly. The petrochemical sector – we’re going to talk about six sectors here that we focus on in our business development team. The petrochem is the – it is the engine of our region. These are where these companies are – they’re carrying out their operations, they’re investing, they’re continually expanding with the growth around that sector. I mentioned Shell. Shell – many of the companies – it is – in terms of capacity, they have the most capacity that they produce at those facilities, whatever specialty chemical or plastic resin it might be. All those intermediate products that they make go into end uses that we use in our everyday lives. Under the Shell Geismar operations, its alpha olefins unit, it’s – they have four units there. It’s one of the highest-producing units in the world, as well as BASF. They have – they have a facility there. They have over 400 in the world. I think they’ve picked six of their facilities – they call it Verbund, I think, is the German name. I can’t pronounce that right, but it means – it’s vertically integrated energy. It’s efficiently operated. It’s one of their highest-tech facilities. It’s one of six in the world and it’s right there in Geismar, which is in our region.
So it’s companies like that. Shintech is another one. They – a billion-and-a-half investment in their plastic resins facility. So it’s these investments and the jobs they continue to reinvest in that grows our economy, which leads us to these other sectors that we’re going to talk about.
So software – all these sectors are connected to that industry. The mayor talked about our economy being diverse. I graduated from LSU 20 years ago. We did not have this sector here when I was there. IBM is now – it has an innovation and solutions center; there’s about 800 people that work there. They help our industry, that petrochem. They have a standing committee where these – the industry participates and helps them solve technological problems that are associated – in those plants. We have EA Games there in terms of a game testing center, other firms like Twistlock – that’s a cyber security, and Sparkhound and General Infomatics that are a few other service – software development companies that come to mind.
The next sector, healthcare, that we were talking a little bit about, the basis of that is the – from our standpoint, developing that sector for us is the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. They research things – they are internationally known. They research things such as cancer, obesity, nutritional analysis – all these things that we’re trying to grow and add to our sector. In that sector now we’ve got over 30,000 folks that we know work in that. We’re trying to build it – build out that life sciences, the biopharmas, the things that are associated with research centers like Pennington Biomedical Center.
It’s interesting, I’ll say it’s – all these sectors are tied to the oil and gas and petrochem. It was Doc Pennington, he was an oil man, and to start Pennington, he made a $125 million donation or grant to start that facility, and that was probably 20, 30 – probably even more, many more years ago that he did that. So it’s interesting to see how that connection is back to the oil and gas engine of our economy.
Logistics is another sector that we focus on. It’s heavily tied to moving the products that these plants make up and down the river. When they invest, they invest billions, not just millions. They – and they – in terms of tonnage and amount of product they move, when they build these facilities, they build them for a million tons at a time. So think about in terms of what that means for logistics. A truck – it’s got to have a truck, a rail, a barge, an ocean-going vessel, all these things to move that. So we have, as a result of that investment, a very robust transportation infrastructure in our region to move all this product, so logistics becomes a key piece of that.
One of the latest announcements we had was the Conns, it’s a big appliance – it’s on the consumer side, but it announced in West Baton Rouge. In terms of foreign direct investment, Katoen Natie, that’s – I believe they’re out of Belgium, and that’s a big firm that moves a lot of product in the plastic resins business, so like I said, it’s another key piece. And at the port, you have also the Louis Dreyfus grain elevators. That’s a Netherlands company, global footprint, has hundreds of facilities around the globe.
You have Drax Biomass moving wood pellets. That’s one of the largest power producers in the UK. They’ve converted from coal facilities to wood-producing facilities. So they are harvesting trees, making wood pellets in the U.S., pulling them through Baton Rouge, and shipping them across the ocean to the UK.
So our next one would be the agriculture technology. Agribusiness is a big piece of our region. I mentioned the Louis Dreyfus moving the grains and the oil seeds through. You also have the – like the Drax Biomass at the port, we have the LSU Ag Center. It’s one of the – it has some of the most robust intellectual property research they conduct to help out our agricultural businesses.
Syngenta is another one that’s – that is present in the region there producing things like seeds and some of the – I’m trying to remember, I’m forgetting what their – what one of their products is that I’m trying to – I’m drawing a blank on. But anyway, the agricultural technology is a big piece of what we do, and it’s tied to a lot of our petrochem, but the infrastructure, moving product to the globe.
And then finally, I think, wraps us up with the water sector, which we’ll hear from Justin from. It’s also tied to our petrochem facility with all the regional petrochems and practicing up and down the river. What will take place here is a – we’re trying to help Justin and his team kind of develop what – their research by helping them fill in the million square feet, which I think we’ll hear more from Justin here in a minute, that will house office space, shared facilities that will be associated with that institute.
For that, I’ll turn it over to you, Justin, and let you take over from there.
MR EHRENWERTH: Great. Well, thank you. It’s good to be with everybody. Thanks for your interest in what we’re here to talk about. So if you go to the next slide, I’m going to talk a little bit about the Water Institute and what we’re doing. The brief context is that our story as a – we’re an applied research group, so we have PhD-level scientists from, let’s see, now we’re at about 10 different countries within our staff, so we’re quite an international group.
Our story goes back to Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina, leaders from Baton Rouge and the State of Louisiana got together and said clearly we have a water problem. We need to go and find out who in the world is dealing with water using the best innovative technology and science, go and learn from them. So we started flying from Baton Rouge to the Netherlands because the Dutch have this great reputation, well deserved, of being the best in managing water. They have been protecting their coastline for the last 800 years, and in 1953 they had a storm that we think of as their Hurricane Katrina moment – 1,500 people died – and the Dutch said never again. And they’ve built remarkable flood-control projects, and they’ve also done incredible science.
So they created something called Deltares, which is probably the best coastal and deltaic applied research group in the world. They do a lot of World Bank work and are active in 40-some countries. And the group from Baton Rouge saw Deltares and all the Dutch were doing and were very impressed and came back home and said, “We need to get us one of them.” And that was the founding of the Water Institute.
So if you go to the next slide you see this is our home. It’s a really – it’s just a fun and beautiful building right on the Mississippi River. What you can’t see so well in that picture are the levies that protect the community from the river when it’s in flood. We are actually on the other side of the river, and that’s important for some of the work that we do at the institute that I’ll describe. It’s also just a really cool place to go to work in the morning, so.
So let me tell you a little bit about the work that we’re doing on the water campus. So the State of Louisiana is really in an existential crisis when it comes to its land. We are losing a football field of land every – every 100 minutes we lose another football field of land. We’ve lost around about 2,000 square miles over the last few decades, which is about the land of the size of – about the size of Delaware, so a state. There are nations that would go to war to protect that amount of land.
So what we’ve done to address this challenge – let me say a little something about why we have the challenge. So you can see the Mississippi River that goes through our state. When rivers in a delta like this are left to their own devices, they’ll occasionally flood, and the water goes over the banks, but so does the sediment, so does the sand and the mud that flows down the Mississippi River. That’s been our lifeblood. That’s what’s built coastal Louisiana is the Mississippi River.
There was a big flood in 1927 and the United States Government and the Army Corps of Engineers came together and said, “Never again,” and built levies all around the river. The good news is we don’t flood, and our infrastructure is protected from river flooding. The bad news is we cut off our oxygen source, we cut off the sediment that replenishes our land, and we have other challenges around coastal erosion that include oil and gas canals that were created, we have global climate change and sea level rise, so we have a lot of challenges. What that’s caused us to do is focus some of the best minds in the world on what to do about it. So we’ve developed a 50-year, $50 billion plan to restore and protect coastal Louisiana, and that has been a big focus of the institute’s work.
And if you go to the next slide, I’ll show you a little bit – I’ll talk about what you’re seeing here. So I mentioned the challenge of the – that the levies along the river create. What we are doing now is we’re moving forward with billions of dollars worth of diversion programming, and what that essentially means, and you can kind of see it at the – if you run that slide one more time, I’ll try to explain if you go back and – go forward. And what you’ll start to see with this animation is you see that – imagine a hole cut in the levy with a gate. And what we do is we open that gate up and let the water flow during certain moments of the year when the river’s in flood condition and there’s a lot of sediment. And so essentially what you do – what you see there is a delta operating like a delta. We’re letting, allowing Mother Earth to do what she did to create coastal Louisiana, so harvesting really the sediment, because 40 percent of the continental United States drains into the Mississippi River, which creates a lot of water but also a lot of sediment.
So this is a nature-based solution, as we like to call it, and it’s not just about creating more wetlands because that’s good for the environment; it is good for the environment, but it’s also about protecting our communities, protecting metropolitan New Orleans, ultimately protecting Baton Rouge and communities beyond. And so anyway, it’s the largest restoration project ever attempted in human history due to the cost and the size of it, and when that gate is open, the amount of water flowing through it becomes the seventh-largest river in North America. So it’s big, big, big stuff that we’re working on.
And if you go to the next slide, you’ll see another challenge that we have where we’re bringing the best science in the world towards it. So this we call real-time forecasting. So what you’re seeing right now is a simulation. Imagine that there’s a big storm coming and you’re not quite sure what’s going to flood. If you’re able to have something like this and if the video’s working, it would kind of fly over and you see what areas are expected to flood, what areas are expected to be underwater, and what areas aren’t.
So up on the top of the screen, you can see a road that’s not underwater. That’s very helpful for the National Guard and first responders to know about in advance. The other thing that tools like this are very helpful for is you can run different scenarios. You could say let’s run a Hurricane Katrina scenario, let’s run a Hurricane Harvey scenario, let’s run a rainy Sunday afternoon where it rains six inches in two hours and see what floods.
One of the challenges and the reason we developed this technology along with our Dutch colleagues is that before major flooding events, you would have leaders – the mayor and the governor and others sitting in an emergency operations center, and the weather service experts are saying, “It’s raining. It’s going to rain more.” And then the U.S. Geological Survey and Army Corps of Engineers are saying, “Our gauges are going up,” and then a decision-maker would say, “Okay, that’s bad. Who’s going to flood?” And we couldn’t tell. We didn’t know where exactly the water was going to go. This sort of technology allows you to see it. And it’s just like the weather. The closer you are to the event, the more accurate these models and these projections are, and so this is technology that we’re deploying around Louisiana and in other parts of the country and other parts of the world.
If you go to the next slide, please, you’ll see some of really our methodology as a nonprofit. We sort of have two missions. Number one is to bring this technology and the science to inform decision-making in Louisiana, and number two is to export it. So it really is in many ways an economic development engine. We’ve modeled this on the Dutch. A big part of their economy is the export of water, water resource technology. Same with us. So you can see on this slide we have partnerships now with the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research in Israel, the Rockefeller Center at Harvard, we’re doing work in costal Chile, discussed a lot of our work with the Dutch, we’re partnering in Paris as well as we have an arrangement with a number of 25 South Pacific island nations, and we’re about to start a new project in Argentina.
And really, the reason for all of this is that in Louisiana, we were forced to deal with this set of issues sooner than most because of just where we’re situated and all those other challenges I mentioned earlier. So because we were forced to deal with it, we’ve developed science. We’ve developed technology. We’ve developed solutions. And now, with global climate change and sea level rise and increased rain events in so many parts of the country and parts of the world, those tools are needed even more. Forty percent of the world’s population lives in a coastal environment. So we’re a nonprofit not looking to make money in doing this work, but because of our mission, there is – let’s put it this way: There’s a lot of demand for this kind of thinking because so many parts of the world are challenged with it.
And if you go to the next slide, I think that’s really wrapping it up, so again, thank you for the opportunity to share a little bit about what we’re doing. And I think, speaking on behalf of all of us, we’d be really happy to take your questions if you have any.
MS BROOME: Absolutely, absolutely. If you have questions, we’d welcome them.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a question, yeah. My name is Manoj Rijal and I represent a media back in Nepal and I am from Ghatana Ra Bichar. And how do you feel to be the first female mayor of Baton Rouge as far as I know – the first female mayor?
MS BROOME: Of the – uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
MS BROOME: It’s a very fulfilling experience becoming the first female elected mayor of our city. Women are having breakthrough moments in the political arena here in America. I certainly think that this was one for our city and our community. Being the CEO of a city and of a county certainly gives me a lot of opportunity to help change the trajectory and thoughts about women in leadership positions and also gives me an opportunity to model for young women who have aspirations for public service or any other leadership role, so.
QUESTION: Is there anybody who is your role model or —
MS BROOME: Ah, yes, so I have a lot of role models. I shared with you at the beginning, I think, that I have a lot of millennials around me, but I’m a Baby Boomer. So I came up admiring folks like Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African American elected right here from New York to Congress, and who was very outspoken as a female leader, so certainly. And then in the communications space, because my background is in communications and I grew up in Chicago, there was a reporter, an anchor there by the name of Carole Simpson who I looked up to in the communications arena. So I would say women like Carole Simpson and Shirley Chisholm have certainly been role models for me.
QUESTION: My name is Malick Kane. I’m a correspondent for Afrig Magazine. So —
MS BROOME: In – from where?
QUESTION: With Afrig Mag in Senegal, West Africa.
MS BROOME: In Senegal, okay, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So my question is: Do you have, like, Baton Rouge sister —
MS BROOME: Cities?
QUESTION: — cities with African cities or not?
MS BROOME: Yeah. So at this point, we don’t have sister cities with any countries in Africa. We welcome the opportunity. We have recently joined Sister Cities International as a government. We also have the mayor’s international commission. So we welcome opportunities to have – and I would – I know there are a lot of French-speaking countries in —
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
MS BROOME: — on the continent of Africa, so we would welcome that. I’ve had an opportunity to visit the continent on several occasions. In fact, one of my – well, I’ll talk about that later. (Laughter.) I don’t want to get into a foreign affair here (inaudible). (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Say what you want. (Laughter.)
MS BROOME: I’d rather not say anything about that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS BROOME: Yeah.
QUESTION: So – because the idea of the Water Institute might be very helpful for a lot of countries in the continent, and I think it’s going to be very, very good to connect the Water Institute to this kind of —
MS BROOME: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Because we have a lot of challenge when it comes to water management. Like the island of Gorée, which is going to be if – in hundred years taken by the whole water in Senegal. So maybe we can, like, see how to connect the Water Institute with these kinds of institutions.
MR EHRENWERTH: We would love to be better connected. I mentioned a number of international projects and work that we’re doing. We’re just starting it, though.
MR EHRENWERTH: And so to the extent you have ideas or are able to connect us, that’s really part of the mission. Again, we didn’t ask for the challenge that’s caused us to develop all this work, but we had it and so we’ve developed it, and now it’s just – it’s part of our mission to find these other opportunities with similarly situated communities because the decisions and the issues that we’re facing – I mean, we’re talking about communities that will no longer be able to exist where they are today. And how do you use nature to protect and give more time, and how do you thoughtfully adapt? Because there may just be some places that can’t be inhabited for the long term, and we’ve developed best practices around how do you actually work with the community to develop the right solutions instead of some government saying, “This is what you must do”? It’s actually a community-driven participatory process to look at “Here’s what the science says, here’s where the water’s coming from, here’s what sea level rise looks like. If you do nothing, here’s what happens. If you do a range of projects, here’s some alternatives.” So we would love to have the chance to explore those opportunities.
QUESTION: Hi, so my name is Bukola Shonuga. I’m with Global Media Productions, and I’m really actually very excited to be here to learn about the Water Institute and talk about sister cities. I mean, I’m originally from Nigeria and Lagos would love to —
MR EHRENWERTH: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s a coastal city that would benefit so much from what you guys are doing in Louisiana. And I actually spoke with someone at state – Lagos state office today that I was coming to this and maybe it is an opportunity to invite you guys to Nigeria.
MR EHRENWERTH: We would love that.
QUESTION: And congratulations. I hope one day we won’t have to be talking about being the only female to do XYZ anymore, right? (Laughter.)
But my more important question is about climate change. I mean, you talk about the petrochemical industry in Louisiana and all the other industries, and also I’m sure fishery and that’s also a big industry. So in terms of climate change, are there policies in place that you can speak to that actually control or maybe – that lays some parameters as far as foreign companies coming to invest in that area? What are the policies that are in place to control climate change or to manage climate change?
MR EHRENWERTH: Yeah, it’s an excellent question. This – so we’re – our work in Louisiana has focused on the coast and the set of issues that you’re speaking about, and we’re watching climate change happen before our very eyes. One of the things that I think has been most effective from the on-the-ground perspective is you’re seeing oil and gas companies recognizing that they need to do more to offset their carbon footprint.
So a great example is Shell. Shell is very active in both Nigeria and in coastal Louisiana, and they have established – for all their executives, they’ve tied their compensation to reducing their global footprint. When you tie executive compensation, it can really focus the company, right, to a particular issue.
So one of the things that we are doing to do our best to both protect ourselves and mitigate for climate change is building with nature. So I’ll give an example. Port Fourchon is one of the most important ports in the country. It services 100 percent of all the offshore oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. The port is about to dredge to 50 feet, so they’re going to have all their dredging and they’re going to have all this material that they need to do something with. We’ve created a public-private partnership with Shell, Chevron, and some others from the oil and gas sector to figure out where do you put that material to both protect the critical infrastructure – put it around the port because it’s staring down the Gulf of Mexico and storms and wave action – where can you put the material to create new wetlands, new ridges and terraces that will attenuate the waves and prevent erosion. So you’re protecting infrastructure, it’s good for the environment, it’s helpful from a community resilience perspective because you’re reducing nuisance flooding.
And then to the climate change aspect, we’ll put black mangroves on that material, and black mangroves do a lot of things. First, they have great roots that keep the material together, but they also capture carbon and they have excellent carbon capture properties. So by protecting ourselves, doing economic development, we’re also reducing carbon.
Now, that’s not going to change the global trajectory of sea level rise and climate change. There I think we’re all interested to see what will happen with the Paris accords and everything else. But we’re doing what we can to both protect ourselves and work with industry to make a more resilient future that includes capturing and sequestering carbon.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just one quick question about plastic production. You mentioned a company that produces plastic, and plastic is the most dangerous product for environment globally. So again, with plastic production, any other industry that has high level of emissions, is there any specific – I’m looking at policy information – that really when you invite investors to invest in Louisiana or anywhere in the world that their policies – what are the policies that you can speak to that really make sure that these people are responsible in terms of how they produce these products?
MR RICHARDSON: I think that – well, the companies that invest and they build plants, they build them according to the Department of Environmental Quality regulation, which is underneath the EPA, in terms of admissions and things into the atmosphere. So I don’t remember what that level is, but the whole point is to invest and put the right equipment and pollution controls to keep that plant operating in environmental compliance.
In terms of the products themselves, I think you’ll see a lot of these companies, they’re investing in recycling programs and trying to reuse that product to lessen waste.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Marcelo Medeiros from Record TV in Brazil. And I wanted to know, when you talked about the Water Institute, you said that for the water solutions it wasn’t something that came from the government but was like a dialogue between the community and the government. So I’d like to know how is this dialogue today, not only between the community, the government, the industries, and also nonprofit organizations in the area. How does it work and how is the benefit of having this dialogue?
MR EHRENWERTH: Yeah, I’ll – it’s an excellent question. I’ll give an example. So we do something we call participatory modeling, and basically what that means – we use numerical models to predict the future. What is sea level rise going to look like if – looking at these different scenarios: again, if you do nothing; if you build certain projects; looking at them all. That’s very high-end work that tends to happen behind a computer screen that doesn’t involve the community.
So what we wanted to do was break down that barrier between brilliant scientists doing advanced numerical modeling and what’s actually happening in the community, what people are thinking about. So what we’ve done is we’ve taken the modelers and that process into the community. And what we do is first we establish trust, so we eat together and we talk. We get to know each other. Then we put on the table – we put big maps of the area in which we’re working and we say to everybody, “Circle or put marks on the areas that are really important to you, whether it’s where your home is, your business, it’s a cultural heritage site, whatever the value is in your own view.” And then we say, “Tell us where – what you’re worried about. Where are you seeing flooding? Where are you seeing the land eroding?” And we get that input from the community.
Then we say, “What do you think we should do?” And that in and of itself is very powerful, because traditionally, the government – we do it. The Army Corps of Engineers builds it. We don’t necessarily ask what are your ideas. And then we say, “Okay, let us take those ideas back to the computer, to the model, and plug them in and see how your ideas, your solutions will actually do when we run different storm scenarios and whatnot.”
And what we’ve learned from that process is a couple things. One, there’s much – there’s a much better dialogue between the community and the government using the language of science. Some ideas might turn out to be brilliant and innovative that the government scientists hadn’t thought about. Other ideas may turn out not to work really well. Someone might say, “I think you should build a big wall right here,” and it turns out that that’s just – the wind’s coming from the southeast instead of the southwest; it’s not going to perform well. Well, regardless of how the idea actually does, when you go back and have that fifth or sixth conversation with the community, people feel listened to because not only were they heard, but their idea went into a really fancy computer model and they got to see what the output was.
And so even if their idea doesn’t make it into a plan and ultimately implemented, they were heard. And oftentimes, truly, you learn from the community. There are people who’ve been living and fishing and working in certain areas their whole lives or for many generations, and scientists alone may not be able to know everything that they know from their real-life experience.
So I don’t want to pretend that that kind of process solves all the issues, because there are always difficult trade-offs, but it’s something that we’re doing more and more and – and we think it’s a great way to use science to bridge between community members – people who are worried about what’s water going to do to my home and my business, my way of life – into the – and informing the decision-making process.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just so sorry. My last question is for the mayor. In terms of employment, I mean, as foreign investor comes into any country, not just the United States, not just Louisiana, local labor gets sort of marginalized. A lot of them are not – they don’t have the skill set to get – that’s required to get – to be gainfully employed in today’s economy. So what is your city doing specifically to make sure the local labor there, they’re also paid – not living wage – living wage, but whatever – I don’t – what’s the minimum wage in Louisiana?
MS BROOME: You’re asking some real good questions there (inaudible). (Laughter.) Yeah, so it’s interesting that you say that, because last year and this year I went around to a lot – a diverse group of industries in our community – small businesses, large businesses, et cetera; retail, food, manufacturing, you name it – and I asked them what were some of their challenges. And one of the challenges that they often talked about was a skilled workforce, right? So in recognizing that, I have a workforce development component through our – what we call Employ BR is a program focused on workforce development, but specifically employing individuals who might not – who might have some obstructions to getting jobs because of their background, et cetera. And we – that category is from 14 to 24, right?
So we are now specifically focused on a workforce development plan for our city and parish, recognizing that we want to offer financial stability to families. And in order to do that, we definitely have to have a plan.
We talked a little bit earlier about partnerships, right, the public-private partnerships. So we have partnered with some private industries who have afforded us an opportunity to have folks trained in their specific industry, right, for some great-paying jobs. In addition, one of the innovative and creative ideas that we came up collectively with in our community is a career training institute in the automotive industry. So we have a automotive training center that’s the hub of what we call our Ardendale project, which is another reinvestment for disinvested communities, but this is a campus. It gives individuals an opportunity to be trained in the automotive sector, but we also have a connection with our high schoolers, who can go through training in the medical field or other fields as well. So that gives them a jump start if they decide to go to college or if they don’t decide to. They’ve already got that under their belt.
And just as a caveat for that whole complex, we’re also doing a mixed use development there so that people can have affordable housing. We’re collaborating with our community college, which is like right – almost across the street from this area. And recently, we were awarded a $30 million Choice Neighborhood grant for that particular area where that project has already started to evolve. So making sure that we afford individuals an opportunity to develop their skills and find those spaces are certainly a priority so individuals can – I always say everybody should have a job so that they can pay their bills and maintain their dignity, that’s very important.
QUESTION: Thank you. That’s beyond GDP concept, measuring what counts, right?
MS BROOME: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
QUESTION: It’s Pan with Xinhua. I went to Baton Rouge late February.
MS BROOME: Did you?
QUESTION: Yes, and have talked with LED Secretary Don Pierson about the Chinese collaboration with the state. And so, here my question is: He told me that the Chinese commerce is already – has been a very significant force in the state’s economy, so I just want to know whether this is the same case. I mean, the impact of Chinese commerce to Baton Rouge area, both in terms of investment and trade.
MS BROOME: I would definitely say in terms of investment – and Russell can speak to that – because one of our major industries, our plants, is owned by the —
MR RICHARDSON: Yeah, so just to piggyback on the mayor, I mean, Syngenta was bought by ChemChina. Yuhuang, I believe, is a Chinese company, as well as Wanhua. I mean, those two investments there are probably – it’s probably 3 or $4 billion worst of investment into the economy there. So it – to answer the question, yes, it’s – with – there is a definite presence in our region and our economy.
PARTICIPANT: And China – not to jump in, but China’s also a market that also buys a lot of the product that is being produced in the plants in the region. So there one of the largest consumers of what the region’s economy is producing.
QUESTION: So you also have a trade surplus on China, right? I mean, you export more —
MS BROOME: We do export —
MR RICHARDSON: Yeah, they do buy a lot of the products that come from our region.
QUESTION: Do you have such kind of data about —
MS BROOME: We can get it to you.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s great. And so do you expect more Chinese investment to the area? If so, what kind of industries you’d like those Chinese companies to invest?
MR BROOME: Well, I’m going to ask our economist here who deals with business.
MR RICHARDSON: Can you ask the question once – one more time?
QUESTION: I mean, if you expect more Chinese companies to invest in Baton Rouge, and what kind of industries you’d like them to invest most.
MR RICHARDSON: That’s a good question. I’m sure – it will be – we look for projects and companies that fit our region. We go out and fit the – the folks that we have to incrementally build on those workforces. You look at the water sector, you look what Justin’s doing. We know in the state there’s 100,000 companies – well, jobs and people that are working kind of in the peripheral of that core sector. So what we’d like to do is help figure out what of those folks are directly working in water management and build that out. So I mean, just kind of coming back to the question on what types of companies we look like, if we’re exporting that type of research and knowledge, those are certain types of companies that we’d like to bring to our region that may benefit or even export that knowledge to them to benefit from that. So you go back to those sectors that I talked about – logistics, agriculture technology, software – all those types of things are types of industries that we want to attract to our region.
QUESTION: Do you have specific incentives to those companies?
MR RICHARDSON: There are a host of incentives. Mostly the incentives in Louisiana are administered at the state level. While there is local participation and approval on some of them, most of them – there’s a digital media incentive, like for software, and we can get into the nuts and bolts of those or get you some information. But in general, they’re going to – they’ll approach it from a payroll incentive, a tax credit, an exemption. There are many different ways to implement those types of incentives that will attract, and what they do is they’ll – just those sectors that we’ve talked about, they’re all targeted to those types of sectors. So whether it’s a rebate or an exemption, it will apply.
QUESTION: So do you feel concerned about the current U.S-China trade tensions? Will that impact the investment? Because actually, that – where was investment, somewhat actually be (inaudible)?
MR RICHARDSON: We try to stay in touch with the companies that we’ve worked with. To my knowledge – I have not talked with any companies from the recent developments with the Chinese tariffs, but from where I last left off, there have been no cancellations in terms of the projects and investments in the region that I’m aware of.
PARTICIPANT: It’s certainly something that we keep an eye on. So manufacturing, for example, makes up 8 percent of our jobs but 25 percent of our GDP. And so things that adversely affect that economy would have a very serious impact on our regional economy. But I think as these things are still kind of in flux and underway, it’s certainly something that we’re concerned about but kind of keeping an eye on.
QUESTION: So in terms of the city level or county level, so what’s your expectations to the U.S.-China trade relations?
MS BROOME: Well, let me just say this: I can’t speak to everything that’s going on on a national level, but I can speak to what’s going on in Baton Rouge. And we have made it quite clear to everyone that we’re open for business and that we want to do business with people who believe in our goals and in our vision, welcome those type of conversations.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR EHRENWERTH: And I’ll just add from a – the water guy has to say something about water. (Laughter.) The Pearl River Delta in China has a lot of the same challenges that we find in the Mississippi River Delta. So it’s an area that we certainly look at and are fascinated by, whether or not some of the technologies that are being developed in Louisiana because of the challenges we have can have application in China. It’s a fascinating – that is a fascinating delta with a whole host of challenges that seem very familiar to us.
QUESTION: Do you have such kind of collaboration so far?
MR EHRENWERTH: Not yet in China, no. It’s something that we would really aspire to do. Again, that’s where – our mission is to take these tools and this knowledge that we’ve acquired, and look for places to ultimately apply it.
QUESTION: So far, do you have any plan to promote your technology in China?
MR EHRENWERTH: We don’t, not an official one, because we’re a – we’re staying very focused on actually doing the applied research, and China has been a – I think it’s a very – it’s a fascinating place to work. It presents some challenges to us because we’re just not as familiar with how you would find the funding, how you would find the opportunity, so it would be great for us to learn more about whether there are possibilities for us to be helpful.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on China and – this is a provocative question. You can answer if you want or not. In terms of the current trade war between U.S. and China, specifically the tariff that has been imposed on imports of things from China, do you – what’s the disadvantage and advantage of the United States in the current state of – in affairs?
MR RICHARDSON: The disadvantage?
QUESTION: Disadvantage. Can you speak to that a little bit?
MR RICHARDSON: I don’t know that I have an opinion.
MS BROOME: Let me share this with you, because – and I might have said this at the very beginning, but a local government, while we certainly collaborate with the federal government, with the state government, local governments, you will find, are charting their own course and their own path to empower the citizens of their community. And so while we recognize the different issues that are going on around us and in our nation and internationally, we stay focused on our agenda of empowering our communities through the resources and through the opportunities that we have as a local government and municipality. So we try very hard to stay focused on that. That’s why I said Baton Rouge is open for business, right? (Laughter.) So that we can speak to.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. Thank you.
MODERATOR: I think we have time for one more question, if there is one.
QUESTION: I have a question. Hello. (Inaudible.) (Laughter.) I have two questions, actually, and the first one relates to climate change and rising water levels. And this is probably very oversimplified, but I was just wondering, in terms of when viewing your work, do you view your work as a problem to be solved? Like, for example, when there was a hole in the ozone layer, the world worked together to help close it. Or do you view climate change and rising sea levels as a problem that will always kind of be a part of our future that we’ll just have to work against going forward?
My second question is: It’s amazing how you were elected into your position, especially when thinking about Louisiana as more of a red state. So I was just wondering what your biggest challenge was when running and how you overcame it.
MS BROOME: Okay. He can answer this one.
MR EHRENWERTH: Okay. (Laughter.)
MS BROOME: I’ll close us out.
MR EHRENWERTH: Okay, sounds good. So we tend to think of climate change from – in our work, we think of it as something to manage and adapt around. If – just looking at the science, if the world – all countries around the world did everything that was suggested in the International Panel on Climate Change report and some other associated documents, we would still – if it all happened starting today, we would still need to deal with sea level rise and effects of climate change because of processes that are at play and will continue. So the way we think of it is, yes, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed and attacked head-on, but from our work in particular, we’re really focused around how do you adapt around a reality that is happening and how do we continue to give our communities more time as global conversations are taking place around climate change.
So I wish I could say that we’re all just focused on solving it. There are many people who are. Where we live, at the tip of the spear, we’re very focused on how do we continue our way of life, recognizing some of these environmental stressors that are very challenging to completely reverse.
MS BROOME: So I talked earlier about the uniqueness of Louisiana, but I was specifically speaking to our culture, et cetera, and I will tell you we are politically unique as well in that we are a red state, but the largest cities in Louisiana – specifically Baton Rouge and New Orleans – have female mayors. And while our state is red, most of our cities in Louisiana, our big cities – the top five, I would say – are blue cities. So that makes us very unique, right? So coming into office, I came from an electorate of a city in a red state but a blue city, a city that has supported a variety of different political ideologies, but certainly one that is progressing and has been the core of the blue part of a red state. And so being the first woman elected I believe was part of an ongoing progression that is taking place within our city. We now have two female mayors of the largest cities. New Orleans and Baton Rouge both have female mayors and both are blue cities in a red state.
MODERATOR: That concludes today’s briefing. I want to thank you very much for coming and spending your time with us. We’ll make a transcript available to everyone afterwards, and I know Mr. Ehrenwerth has to head to the airport, but the mayor and Mr. Richardson are available just for a few minutes afterwards for a few one-on-ones. Thank you very much, and that concludes today’s briefing.