Written by Walter Pierce
Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Lafayette has it; but will the chamber of commerce buy it?

If this journalism thing doesn’t work out, I may seek employment in the federal Office of Acronyms. The feds love acronyms, and I evidently enjoy a facility for creating them. Over the last few weeks as we tried to get our arms around this Cool Town issue, I, out of thin air and with great aplomb, personal fanfare and self congratulations, came up with an acronym that I believe perfectly encapsulates what it is about Lafayette that has us poised to become a hip, sophisticated city that attracts the creative class — the writers, artists, engineers, architects, planners and other professionals who are drawn to a city because of its festivals, its restaurants and museums, its parks and public spaces, its employment opportunities and cultural amenities.

Lafayette has ... drum roll please ... VIBE.

Vision.
Innovation.
Brand.
Energy.

The reason this issue is dubbed Cool Town and not VIBE is because, much to my chagrin, my colleagues think acronyms are corny. I know this because the “ta-da!” moment during which I unleashed the brilliance upon them was occasioned by snickers, glances askance and smart-asterisk remarks.

They are so wrong for that.

Lafayette had the vision before the turn of the 20th century, when gas lamps were still the new-fangled way to light a home, to create its own public utility, LUS, and to press the Legislature and governor to give us a center of higher education, South Louisiana Industrial Institute, now UL. Each gave Lafayette a glow — literally and intellectually — that attracted population, professionals and new ideas.

Decades before that, Lafayette residents approved a bond proposal to fund the building of roads to Abbeville, New Iberia, Crowley, Opelousas and St. Martin Parish (most likely Breaux Bridge), creating transportation spokes emanating out from the city limits. We connected ourself to our neighbors and became the Hub City. All roads lead to Lafayette.

In 1952 Maurice Heymann had a vision for making Lafayette a hub for the oil industry. He built an office complex on his plant nursery at the corner of St. Mary Boulevard and Pinhook Road that became the Oil Center, and which led to massive amounts of wealth flowing into our city.

Lafayette has embraced innovation, the most recent example of which is the successful creation of a fiber-to-the-premises business through our public utility. Lafayette had to fight to make it happen, at the ballot box and in court. LUS Fiber is laying a technological infrastructure for Lafayette that other cities wish to emulate, one that will lure new industry and help keep the industry we have.

Lafayette has a brand that is distinct. We embrace our indigenous cultures and are happily and proudly defined by them. It wasn’t always that way; for much of the 20th century the focus was to mainstream, to dampen the accent. The creation of the Center for the Development of French in Louisiana, CODOFIL, in the late 1960s was an expression of an emerging sense of cultural pride that manifests itself today in Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, Festival International de Louisiane and French immersion education in our public schools. Lafayette is known worldwide as Cajun and Creole country, Dewey Balfa and Clifton Chenier are our sound track. That’s how we roll.

And finally, is there a more energetic, optimistic city in Louisiana or along the Gulf Coast? Energy means oil and gas, of course, but it means so much more. It’s that entrepreneurial spirit — the wildcatter mentality, as some business boosters call it, that makes us willing to take chances, to open new ventures, to do commerce pretty darn well.

Lafayette has a great vibe.

Sadly, my colleagues don’t get it.

I haven’t obtained a copyright on VIBE, but I believe this column establishes my intellectual property rights.

So, to my friends at the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, I’m open to negotiations.

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