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The Other Side of the Story

May 20, 2016

By: Stephen Waguespack

These are challenging times for many in Louisiana, including our employers.

The state budget deficit has dominated the headlines for months, with several articles unfairly targeting the private sector to shoulder most of the blame for public sector spending trends.

Louisiana’s economy is in recession, which has placed tremendous burdens on those trying to invest and hire in our communities. The federal government continues to push down new regulations and mandates on employers, adding unnecessary costs and restrictions that stifle economic growth. For these reasons and more, employers have every reason to remain nervous and conservative with their resources as they cautiously wait for this dark period to pass.

However, in many ways, Louisiana’s employers have plowed ahead with what they do best: making a difference in their communities.

For instance, I had the honor to help plan and participate in a fundraiser last weekend for a Baton Rouge nonprofit making great strides toward helping children with autism spectrum disorder reach their potential. The facility is a fantastic resource for families, practitioners, communities and policymakers, and lives are changed every day within its walls. The moral and financial support given by the business community at that event (and throughout the year) was overwhelming and heartwarming; a level of giving that will change the lives of many children for the better in countless ways.

I have no doubt that similar occurrences occur every all across this great state where the local business community gives time, manpower and resources to a local cause to make a big difference in the lives of their fellow man. In most cases, local news outlets don’t report on these events, and they certainly aren’t trending on social media. Stories about the private sector stepping up to make a difference usually go untold.

Regardless, history has shown that the business community will continue to step up time and time again.

The Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) also recognizes contributions made by employers in Louisiana communities, as evidenced by their current daily series entitled “50 Businesses in 50 Days: Highlighting our business and industry partners and thanking them for their incredible generosity and commitment to community and technical education.”

As part of this series, a different company is recognized daily for their contributions. For instance, LCTCS commended the family-owned wood products company RoyOMartin for their plan to hire 25 new employees and take advantage of workforce training from Central Louisiana Technical Community College (CLTCC). LCTCS recognized Gulf Coast Bank for investing directly in the South Louisiana Community College, partnering with a local Marine Corps League to establish a local scholarship program and contributing to several other school-related initiatives and events. Gilchrist Construction Company helped to purchase a new state-of-the-art driving simulator for the CLTCC Commercial Driver’s License Program while LCTCS recognized Methanex for investing in River Parishes Community College’s new technical training center. These examples are just a small sampling from the LCTCS series underlining business and industry’s investment in their community colleges.

LSU could tell the same story about investments across their system, including a new engineering building, foundation headquarters, and business complex on the main campus. Nicholls State University has the same story to convey about its beautiful Culinary Institute. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) partnered with information technology company CGI just this week on a groundbreaking for a new center of excellence that will create 400 jobs and greatly enhances the ULL computer science program. Without exception, every campus across Louisiana has benefitted from the generosity, partnership and support of a Louisiana employer.

It doesn’t stop there. Ask the leaders at your children’s elementary or high school about how the business community has helped their school succeed. Take the time to observe the contributions made by local employers when you visit the local ball field, park, museum or theater this weekend. Reflect on the times local government has resolved a local challenge thanks to local businesses’ contributions.

Employers certainly help drive the economy through the hiring of our people, thereby providing the salary and benefits that ripple throughout the economy. They also invest much more than that in ways often left unseen. They are usually the first to step up in times of need because they believe in their communities.

These are challenging times, requiring us all to tackle complex problems and consider controversial solutions. Too often lately in this effort, the knee-jerk reaction by many is to blame businesses instead of seeing them as the critical partner to find a sensible solution.

The template for a better approach surrounds us. We see it in our schools, our local charities, and countless civic entities. Every day, throughout the state, communities collaborate with generous and engaged employers to help improve the lives of Louisiana residents. This ongoing partnership with local businesses is rewarding and beneficial for all involved.

During these challenging times, we should commend our business partners for doing their part across the state of Louisiana rather than unfairly blaming the private sector for problems it did not create. The current rhetoric is unfair and short-sided, especially since history clearly shows the success of our private sector is the best way to help responsibly solve public sector problems.