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Chamber urges young leaders to get involved - Sunday, March 03, 2013
By Tina Marie Macias

Now, more than ever, when Lafayette is shaping the future of the city, young professionals need to step up and become active members of the community, a young leaders organization and the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce said last week.

"Chambers all over the country have to refocus their efforts to have to seek a growing segment of the young business community," said Bruce Conque, chamber vice president. "Those are the folks that we want to attract to Lafayette, and those are the folks that we want to come here and not leave in the future."

Conque was among the crowd of community leaders who attended a "Community Connection" event Friday hosted by the705, a professional development and networking organization geared at young professionals.

Conque said the chamber plans to partner with the705 in the future, and the organization asked other boards to do the same on Friday.

"A better community is made through better relationships. What we want is access," said the705 President Zach Barker. "This about when you were 25 years old and you had all these great ideas. What did you want? You wanted someone to listen to you."

Along with professional development, the705 also includes programming, philanthropy and civic committees. The group's goal is to connect leaders in the community and create a better Lafayette.

"The705 is that bridge across that gap where you take the young, ambitious, driven leader who has done a lot of talking in their lifetime but not a lot of execution, but because of the705 and the culture that's built here, has become a doer and is held accountable by their peers and by the leaders that exist in this community," Barker said.

The705 has had some success reaching out into the community. Members serve in the leadership of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Acadiana, Junior Achievement, Camp Bon Couer, Festival International de Louisiane, Junior League, 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette, Lafayette Young Lawyers Association, Acadiana Entrepreneur Group, INNOV8, Social Medial Breakfast, Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, University of Louisiana Young Alumni Association, Acadiana Dark Sky and Oil Center Association.

They would like to do more, but they run into roadblocks and issues with access. That should not stop them from trying, said Jan Swift, executive director of Upper Lafayette Economic Development.

"I want to encourage you to realize that what you bring to the table probably outshines what some of us may see or may not see. Sometimes we just need someone to say at the table, 'Well, what can't this be done? Why is our community still leaving behind this group? Or how can we make our community more enticing for business, for visitors,'" Swift said.

Established community and business leaders have an opportunity to learn from the705 as well as being mentors to the group, Conque said, particularly now when the chamber and city-parish government are working on a comprehensive plan, or master plan, that will address aspects of Lafayette's future growth, including education, infrastructure and economic development.

"It could not come at a better time," said Dee Stanley, chief administrative officer of Lafayette Consolidated Government. "I've been in government for 30 years and it's a terrible time for anger. " As you try to put meaningful discussion of what you want your community to be in the next 10 years on the table, what it's going to cost to fund it, who's going to pay for it and how it's going to get funded, you're instantly pulled back into that angry discussion of government spending and taxes."

The comprehensive plan will be for the young people, like those in the705, and other fresh initiatives, like the chamber's innovation festival held in late April, INNOV8, Conque added.

"What we're doing now in the comprehensive plan is not for me, it's for the705 and their generation," Conque said. "They need to be part of the present planning."

The705 began in 2007 and has grown to become the face of young professionals in Lafayette, said Stanley, adding that the group's clout is recognized among community leaders. A member of the Lafayette Consolidated Government leadership also makes a point to have a monthly lunch with a leader from the705, he said.

"You're the now, as it relates to the bridge that we can build on what your community wants to be. You're the architects, you're the designers and the older folks are kind of helping guide you in that direction," Stanley said.

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