MURPHY: Jefferson Parish Must Take Over Leadership Of The New Orleans Area

Editor’s note: below is the written version of a speech given by our buddy Todd Murphy, who has served as president of the Jefferson Parish Chamber of Commerce, at the organization’s annual meeting. Murphy is leaving his post to embark on an opportunity in financial services.

The speech is worth posting, because in it Todd voices something we’ve thought was important for a long time – namely, that suburban jurisdictions which are not dysfunctional need to stop paying homage to, and acting in a submissive fashion toward, dysfunctional cities run by morons. Jefferson Parish is the classic example of that. And Todd’s speech last week threw down the gauntlet on that very subject.

The juiciest parts are at the bottom.

Good Morning!!

Welcome to our “almost Annual meeting.”  This business gathering has been rescheduled twice because of COVID and once because of Ida! But we are here today, and, for that, I am very grateful. I am also grateful that my family is here today. It is indeed my parents that instilled giving back and community service into my upbringing; my wife that has endured my long days and nights; and my children who aren’t quite sure what I do!   Thanks for being here today.

Today is also my swan song event.  According to ancient legend, the swan sings a beautiful song just before retiring.  I am far from retirement but as I begin a new chapter in my life I will first exit as your President.  So, I will leave you with a beautiful look back — and forward at one of Louisiana’s most thriving parishes.

First, however, … let me shine the spotlight on the organization itself.

Next year, the Jefferson Chamber will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

What began with a small group of dedicated investors around a conference table has grown into an advocacy group of 900 members, a full-time staff of seven, and this meeting room of more than 500 attendees. And by the way, while that small staff has changed faces over the years, the mantra of raising the bar has never wavered.  What began with an idea to bring businesses together to educate and advocate on parochial issues has evolved into one of the region’s and state’s most influential voices.

When you consider the numerous committees, events, services and projects ALL led by volunteers you realize just how engaged this organization is – in driving successes in our community.

Over the years, we have added a first-rate Leadership Jefferson program, a charitable giving Foundation and a Political Action Committee that offers a powerful voice.”

In the last decade, we have been named Louisiana’s Chamber of the year … three times. (pause for applause)

And, we have earned 5 Star Accreditation from the US Chamber, and we are in a class of our own … one of only 132 elite 5-Star accredited Chambers out of 7,000 chambers across America! That’s quite an achievement.

We use our voice well.  Whether in the halls of the Jefferson Parish Government Buildings, the Jefferson School System, the State Capitol or Congress, it is fair to say that I am stepping away from one of our state’s most relevant, influential and courageous organizations. In fact, I can tell you that we are recognized as one of the best chambers in the country, and I don’t mind bragging on that success now that I am not on the payroll!

We have not selected my successor as of yet. But I can assure you that interest in this job was overwhelming with more than 100 applicants. I will continue to work with the search committee to find the right replacement who must be bold, forward-thinking and willing to serve as an ambassador and social chairman for our business community.

My tenure at the Chamber lasted nearly a decade and I am truly honored to have been at the helm through so many terrific moments.  I know you have heard me say before, this is the best gig in town.  Well, here are some ingredients that make this one of the best jobs in all of Louisiana. 

Let’s first look to our parish leadership. We have a stellar group of councilmembers, state and local officials, school board members, and a dedicated, conscientious parish president and school superintendent.

During the pandemic and the storms, the parish president kept everyone informed in one of the best displays of open, transparent communication in the state.  As a business group, we were always invited to address our community, and it is because of this type of collaboration that our parish is considered to be so business friendly.

Speaking of competent and bold leadership, I would be remiss if I did not praise our Political Action Committee. A well-known political commentator, when analyzing recent elections, called the Jefferson Chamber PAC the “most valuable endorsement in Jefferson.”

This group of concerned business leaders who are members of the political action committee are dedicated to finding the right people for elected office. Now, it’s obviously not practical that the PAC members could agree with every position of every endorsed candidate, but they can evaluate a field of candidates and determine who will most likely be best for business and prosperity in Jefferson.  They have done an admirable job of helping elect most of our elected officials.

In my 10-year tenure, the Chamber has at times partnered with our parish council and administration on issues, – prodded them to move on certain issues, – and even pushed back on those matters that concerned us.  But we always worked with them toward a solution, always acted in good faith, and always shared a mutual respect.

The result has been more commercial and residential development, better access to transportation through rideshare apps, increased industrial development and job growth especially on our west bank and revitalization projects in Fat City, and the area surrounding Lafreniere Park.

Currently, the Jefferson Chamber has a seat on several parish initiatives and to name a few:

The Charter Review Committee – (mandated for review every 10 years)

American RESCUE funds task force – where will Jefferson spend its $84 million?

The Westbank Port Development Task Force

Additionally, we have representation on the boards of JEDCO and the Port of New Orleans. And, through our charitable foundation, we are continuing to work with the parish to facilitate beautification projects in Fat City and Bucktown.

Another ingredient in our success is what I call “Competent Government 101.”

Jefferson Parish has great structure, systems, and processes. We have dedicated and transparent funding to schools, police, fire, drainage and even trash pick up.

We have water management experts and engineers who oversee our water quality. These parish workers report to the administration, but the parish council is a competent “checks and balances” to ensure that our government departments are all acting as professionally as can be expected.  And I must note that our council moves with a bit of swagger, emboldened by both the charter and of course, their own unique personalities!

The final ingredient to our Chamber and parish successes goes to our citizens, whose hopes, exasperations and voice keep all of us striving for excellence. The people of Jefferson expect collaboration, strong leadership and services that function properly.

The people of Jefferson demand smooth roads and safe streets. They hold officials accountable for effective drainage and clean water; for trash to be retrieved – on schedule.  They require a 911 system and first-responder dispatch that saves lives. They embrace a powerful police force that won’t tolerate even the most elementary crimes.

The people of Jefferson welcome a District Attorney who prosecutes criminals, takes them off our streets, and puts them where they can’t terrorize again.   It is sad, but this is not the case in every parish.

Now let me put the shoe on the other foot.  Our elected officials hold us – the Chamber – accountable.  They call on us to evaluate and support millages that properly support critical funding needs.  And our Chamber has consistently been gutsy enough to ask voters to fund a first class, functional parish.

We are doing very, very well in Jefferson Parish.  —And that brings me to our neighbor and what some may believe are controversial statements on my way out the door, but I believe they need to be said.

Even though I grew up in the shadow of Lafreniere Park , I always considered myself a New Orleanian.  We are blessed to live next to one of the most treasured, fabled cities in all the world.  But the New Orleans I knew growing up is no longer the New Orleans we see today.

The new census will show that New Orleans has grown by approximately 40,000 people.  It is customary across America that cities that lose population generally have more blight, crumbling infrastructure, imbalanced budgets and a loss of civic influence and confidence.  And even though New Orleans has gained population, it remains plagued by third-world streets, a dysfunctional water management system, decaying equipment, inadequate housing, and spiraling crime that seems insurmountable.  (Pause)     Something must change.

During the pandemic, Jefferson Parish officials followed the Governor’s protocols.  Our parish and 62 other parishes followed the Governor’s protocols.  But New Orleans, under a very imperious mayor, made it tougher on businesses to survive,- – our parish flourished and remained safe while doing so.

New Orleans businesses struggled under the tight-reined restrictions in the city.  Knee-jerk reactions by a callous administration led to unwarranted attacks on small business and large establishments alike. Who in this room didn’t raise an eyebrow at an elected officials belittlement of entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, hospitality and tourism leaders and enterprises?  It was hard to watch, and for them, ——

hard to survive.

The brand of the City of New Orleans as one that leads the state was tarnished.  Truthfully, I could have named the New Orleans Mayor as the “Economic Developer of the Year for Jefferson Parish”, because we were the beneficiary of her anti-business platform.

I know my words may be harsh, but as I noted, we built this organization on the solid foundation of speaking our mind.  It was once said, “…as goes New Orleans, so goes the region.”  Today, as I enter the business ranks, my final challenge to you is this.  Go to work every day with this mantra in mind: “As goes Jefferson Parish, so goes our treasured City of New Orleans.”

We are a bigger, more economically fit, more inclusive parish over Orleans.  We are part of a 10-parish regional hub that drives a great deal of our commerce in Louisiana.  We have re-opened Avondale as a site that can boom again, and restore thousands of workers to the port’s workforce.  We are the home of the Saints, Pelicans and we are an amateur sporting haven because of our 36 playgrounds and ballparks.  We have the second highest number of hotel rooms in the region, and that makes it possible for our Tier One New Orleans to win major sporting events including Super Bowls, NCAA Championships and more.  Our average household income is almost $30,000 more than that in New Orleans.  Our tax base is lower.  Our utility bills are almost 25% lower.  Our workforce is almost 209,000 strong.  Our infrastructure is solid.  24 of our schools are rated at a B level grade or above.  Almost 67% of companies plan to expand next year, and nearly 97% expect to have at least the same workforce as they do now with no reduction.  Almost half of our companies have operated in our parish for at least four decades … and they are still going strong.

As goes Jefferson Parish so goes the region.

It’s time for Jefferson Parish business leaders to express opinions when New Orleans seems to be steering off course.  For years, New Orleans business leaders preached to Jefferson Parish officials and businesses how they should conduct themselves.  In fact, that is pretty much the reason we started this chamber!

It’s time to reverse the trend.

It’s time for us to make our voice heard in Baton Rouge, especially on matters that impact our prominent and storied neighbor.

It’s time for us to invite dissatisfied New Orleans businesses to our parish so that we may retain their strengths in our region.  It’s time for our state and parish leaders to set the course when it comes to regional matters, not sit back and wait to see what New Orleans’ mayor will roll out so that we may fall in line.

As goes Jefferson, so goes our region.

That is my challenge to each of you.  That is my hope for this community and this region.  It is my belief we are poised to lead. 

(SLOW)

As goes Jefferson, so goes our region … and so it goes.

————————————————————————

I am flattered, honored, humbled, and I am a better person in a variety of ways … all for having served as President of our leading Chamber of Commerce. Thank you for the opportunity, and I look forward to working with each of you on ventures that make our parish better.  You have bestowed upon me great memories, milestone victories, and at times – heartfelt defeats … but the ride was always in the right direction and well worth the journey.

Thank you.  —— And God Bless the great parish of Jefferson.

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