Dig Baton Rouge

The Drive for Data

By Quinn Welsch

“Millennials are taking an approach where they find a place they want to live in, and then they find a job in that area.”

With the River Region booming in industrial growth, planning experts urged greater efforts to map the region’s future infrastructure at the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit, hosted by the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX).

Possibly the biggest tool needed is data, according to a group of panelists at the summit’s Nov. 12 session, Boom Along the River Region: The Path Forward?

Much of this “boom” is from the statewide industrial expansion and increased natural gas production, thanks to new drilling technology. The expansion of petro-chemical plants means increased jobs; more jobs mean increased housing; more housing means more traffic.

“It’s hard to have a plan for growth if you don’t know how many people to expect and when to expect them,” said Travis Woodard, a project manager at CSRS, Inc. and a panelist at the session.

The panelists at the session agreed that in order to aid future development and sustain economic growth, massive amounts of regional data is needed, including numbers on wages, populations, jobs, residences, you name it.

Though the River Region has seen about $21 billion in energy related investments, much of that has been in rural locations, between parishes, said Jessica Kemp, CPEX vice president of policy and advocacy. Baton Rouge may have a solid planning process, but more rural locations in these types of locations do not, said Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department Transportation and Development.

“We celebrate the development of new factories but we don’t look at the bigger picture,” said Kristin Palmer, chair of the Louisiana Super Region Rail Authority and a former New Orleans councilmember.

Local traffic and congestion issues are prime examples of the region’s dependence on reactive measures to growth instead of proactive measures, Palmer said. Similarly, both housing and transportation are “intrinsically linked,” she said. To further develop, planners need to start accumulating data, she said.

Data compilation was also suggested by a team of IBM experts who set out to find solutions for Baton Rouge’s traffic issues as part of the corporation’s Smarter Cities Challenge grant program, which was introduced to the city in late September.

Although the team is not scheduled to bring their formal recommendations to the city until December, their initial recommendation suggested implementing a “data exchange” that could be used for “collection, annotation, sharing and analysis,” between commuters and government agencies. Their recommendation includes data-driven approaches for traffic planners and engineers to help develop and monitor traffic in the city. The recommendations also include social connectivity between commuters to help reduce congestion.

But the same concepts applies to job growth, said Woodard.

“Once you’ve got the big job numbers, demographers can break that down into any number of data sets,” Woodard said.

This will become increasingly important as the workforce transfers to the millennial generation.

“Millennials are taking an approach where they find a place they want to live in, and then they find a job in that area,” Woodard said. That’s opposed to other generations which have typically followed the jobs, he said.

Similar subjects were covered at the session, which invited policy makers, developers and planners to discuss the state’s industrial growth coupled with efforts to protect the coast.

“It’s an exciting time that most of us will never see again in our lifetimes,” Woodard said.



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