Louisiana mayor gives local mayor’s ideas and advice

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 22, 2005

DEMOPOLIS-While Rayne, La. Mayor Jim Pettijeau was unable to attend the August meeting of the Black Belt Mayor’s he was able to give them lots of helpful advice on how to trigger economic growth for the area by teleconference. Since taking office in 1995, Pettijeau has helped his city grow tremendously and profit through attracting Recreational Vehicles.

Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson said she heard Pettijeau speak at a conference in New Orleans and was very impressed.

“The more he talked the more sense he started making to me,” Williamson said. “I immediately thought when he started talking about his project this was something we could do in the Black Belt.”

Williamson said an RV park might not be something that would benefit the Black Belt. However, hearing fresh ideas could generate some discussion on other projects that would benefit the area.

“Whether we choose to do this project or not, hearing him and hearing what he has done with this project might generate our imagination to look at some ideas,” Williamson said.”

Pettijeau said one of the things that has made his city most successful was putting local resources to use. Rayne is located just off Interstate 10, which prompted the people of that town to decide to use an industry that could capitalize on this. Pettijeau said this has contributed greatly to their success.

“This is probably one of the most important parts of our success,” Pettijeau said. “We have 50,000 vehicles a day pass through and we try to do whatever we can to attract those people to our town.”

Pettijeau said it was all about finding a niche and making it work.

“We looked for a little hook,” Pettijeau said. “In an industry you have to have a hook. We got into the RV industry.”

Another key to the city’s success was keeping their visitors coming back. Pettijeau said they make their visitors feel as welcome as possible so they will stop by again.

“What we do to attract and keep people coming back is we give them the same small town service we give local people,” Pettijeau said. “We try to give them a little bit of the culture of our town to keep them coming back.”

The numbers support Pettijeau’s enthusiasm. In the last five years the city has collected $528,092 in rental income. The total economic impact in 2000 was $1,830,500. This number peaked in 2001 at $1,674,000 and continued to have a strong showing in 2004 at $1,383,500. The five-year total was $6,630,000.

All of this was accomplished at a total investment by the City of Rayne of $396,923 and $1,883,000 from the state of Louisiana.

The city’s contributions were used for electrical lines, water lines, a shower facility, CC improvements and the purchase of a health club building. The state’s contributions went toward CC additions, health club and phase III construction and a Frog Festival pavilion.

Williamson said the Black Belt needed to look at fresh ideas and have an area step up and put a plan to work.

“These are the types of things we can do,” Williamson said. “We just need one county or city to say we will take a shot at this. Then all of us would be in support of it and all of us would reap the revenue benefits.”

Williamson said there was no area of the Black Belt that could not make a project associated with tourism work.

“We are very blessed in the Black Belt,” Williamson said. “We have things that people want to come and see and do. Just as they come to Rayne, they will come here.”

There are several interesting and historic places in the Black Belt. Williamson said they could all be tied together to benefit the entire area.

“Each of us in our communities have something special that people will come, drive over for a day and then spend the night in a park,” Williamson said. “There are antebellum homes, civil rights museums, cemeteries, hunting and fishing. There are people that would like to see those things.”

Williamson said the possibilities that face the Black Belt are endless.

“There are all kinds of things that we can tie into that,” Williamson said. “But one county, city or community have to make the initial investment and we all have to support it.”