Shreveport-Bossier’s Phantom of the Opera Is Mayor Glover [OP-ED]
We're all shocked by a new survey that revealed Shreveport-Bossier has the fastest shrinking economy and wonder why that's the case. But why exactly are we shocked or surprised by the statistics?
Shreveport-Bossier has a serious problem. Recent news from the U.S. Conference of Mayors about our metropolitan area economy shrinking the fastest since 2011 has taught me a lot more about our area that is extremely alarming. We in Shreveport-Bossier live with our heads in the sand; we all just want to portray a rosy image of how life is and our local government leaders on both sides of the river are 'me, me, me'.
The below video offers a perfect parallel of how our local government handle opportunities from bigger resources.
Much like the seagulls in Pixar's "Finding Nemo," Shreveport-Bossier fails to take advantage of its opportunities because of all the individual members of the ruling group wanting what they want instead of working together to achieve what is best for all.
I have been here in Shreveport-Bossier for over a year now and have seen how the local politicians operate. Many local politicians are great public servants, but there is an overwhelming feeling of a 'me, me, me' opera and prima donna attitude when it comes to actually getting work done in Shreveport and, at times, in Bossier City.
Shreveport needs to get its act together, but no one in the city seems to have the desire to make it happen or are just more interested in putting their own interests above doing what's right for the greater good of the city.
That is not new, and has been mentioned several times by Shreveport demographer Elliott Stonecipher. Even more concerning is the framing to which the Shreveport-Bossier residents understand and comprehend what is happening to the city.
The report that Shreveport-Bossier had the fastest shrinking economy should be setting off alarms in at least some heads that something is wrong here in Shreveport. It's not that the city is in free fall; it's the fact that Shreveport-Bossier is last in a national study examining economic growth.
Now, the counter argument to that concern has been that that can all be attributed to the loss of the General Motors plant, as well as Haynesville Shale production winding down. However, a point that's being overlooked is the reason why General Motors left in the first place. There is a reason why Shreveport-Bossier is so dependent on the success or failure of Haynesville Shale, and Shreveport-Bossier needs to work to remedy those issues.
The most interesting of these counterpoints was an article saying that the analysis done on these numbers are misleading, but the story itself made no argument in either direction and, theoretically, disproved its hypothetical headline.
Even more unbelievable was another story on the same topic that did address the facts of the story, but totally avoided what needed to be done to fix it. While it's nice to focus on the fantastic facility Cohab offers, it is naive to think Cohab alone will resurrect an entire city's economy.
An interesting parallel to Shreveport-Bossier is another market I am very familiar with that actually was right next to Shreveport-Bossier in economic development until the two metro areas went their separate ways.
Manchester-Nashua, New Hampshire is a market that had to reinvent itself after the textile industry left behind their massive mill yards along New England's river fronts. Manchester-Nashua greatly benefited from attracting quality manufacturing jobs and becoming a hot spot within the Boston high tech corridor to attract high wage jobs.
Manchester and Nashua were able to do this because they both have the solid foundation of a low-cost tax base, plus top-notch education to train workers and develop innovative ideas.
Shreveport-Bossier does not have a quality education base. Shreveport-Bossier does not have a united front to attract businesses to metropolitan area. Here in Shreveport, there does not feel like there exists an active push by the people to work together to bring new opportunities to Shreveport and Bossier City.
Another thing that is very obvious is the clear and defined difference between the haves and the haves not. Even more obvious is that the haves and the haves not do not intermingle.
I brought up that topic to Stonecipher to see what he had to say about the matter, and what he relayed was that the 'racial division' which exists in Shreveport has existed for many years and remains unchanged. What is concerning from my own observations -- and reaffirmed after my conversation with the demographer -- was that these two completely separate, seemingly non-existent to each other groups live their own lives and pursue their own concerns.
Put simply: Shreveport and Bossier can't solve its problems unless everyone is on the same page to fix it together.
Here is some visual data assembled by the New York Times using census data to help display the divide:
Even more interesting following the release of this information from the U.S. Conference of Mayors is the fact that everyone wants to look inside the bubble to solve and understand their troubles when looking outside of the bubble is the true way to better understand our issues.
There was so much hemming and hawing about the validity of these statistics and other statistical tail chasing that no one bothered to look to see how our neighboring metropolitan areas did when compared to Shreveport.
Lo and behold, it turns out we have four other metropolitan areas in the KEEL listening area that also had results in that study.
Longview was easily the frontrunner in the Ark-La-Tex for having the biggest growth from 2011 to 2013. It's very apparent why just based on my own Google searches: Longview has their act together. They have an organized economic development corporation and they have related materials that are easy to access and easily explain why a company should do business in Longview.
What it also highlights is the way Shreveport handles business. Stonecipher has noted how the city has no leadership to get anything done and how that really hurts any efforts to attract businesses to the city.
Everyone here who is in the political game is in the game for their own benefit or their own group's benefit. Never is there a consideration of how one thing or another will affect the entire city, the entire city's tax base or the entire city's services and infrastructure. The divisiveness of the haves and have nots in the city demonstrate on a civilian level the issues that plague Shreveport and Bossier in trying to attract and cultivate new businesses.
One of the most glaring examples of this lack of bigger picture planning is the local casino industry. It is no secret that more and more places are legalizing gambling. Shreveport-Bossier's casino success has been tied to the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Oklahoma has been taking a hefty slice of potential Shreveport-Bossier casino traffic. So what has Shreveport-Bossier done to make our region more attractive to outside visitors? Maybe a media campaign?
Shreveport-Bossier needs to understand that if you expect the local casino industry to survive and be 'Texas legalizing gambling' proof, the region needs to look at diversifying its entertainment options.
Why not look into a family-friendly venue to offer more diversity in the local tourism landscape to help complement what is here already? Why not also focus on what makes Shreveport-Bossier unique compared to other casino towns in America. Just saying you have casinos doesn't make people hop right into their cars and show up on the Red River.
It needs to be understood that we here in Shreveport-Bossier are competing for something and we need to be the winner. We have lost General Motors, several baseball teams, a couple football teams, a hockey team and other not-as-publicized outfits here in Shreveport. When will we learn? Our region needs people who will get together, direct the market and think big about resolving its big, big issues, instead of just saying 'oh, it's okay.'
One other reason Shreveport-Bossier is in the position it is in today is customer service. No, not like waiting 15 minutes for a burger at Burger King kind of customer service. I mean being the brand ambassador for your city in the public eye outside of our bubble.
One of the most concerning things I found out early on in my time here was how difficult it is for any media to hear from Mayor Cedric Glover. Never in my fairly brief professional life has a professional veteran broadcaster at a major news network so angrily cussed out about anything.
After failing to reach the mayor to hear his thoughts on the matter, this reporter vented his anger and frustration to me about how he has never, ever dealt with a mayor of a city the size of Shreveport who did not want to stand up and be the face of a city during a major news event like this.
Like my former colleague, I take my job very seriously. If I am late for an appointment, I make sure the expecting party is aware of my status. If I need to cancel, I inform the other party as soon as possible. I, as a professional, have an expectation that professionalism extended will be returned. The fact that both I and a major network reporter have to express these concerns is absurd.
If this is how local government officials are treating the media, how then are they treating the people that want to bring jobs here?
Unfortunately, no one in Shreveport-Bossier will know because they either have their head in the sand like an ostrich at the beach ignoring the world around them. The information gatherers keep color correcting our future, or our local public office opera singers are making sure they get their 'me, me, mes' in throughout their never-ending, self-fulfilling prophecy.