InterCity Gets Interpersonal

A year after a memorable trip to Nashville, members of the Jefferson Chamber reflect on the lessons they learned and share the practices they’ve put into place.

In June 2021, the Jefferson Chamber invited a diverse delegation of leaders from the region’s public, private and nonprofit sectors to meet with and learn from their counterparts during an InterCity Visit to Nashville. While on the trip, a group of 45 delegates observed the business market and community of Nashville and surrounding areas.

Those who attended the trip represented a wide spectrum of local leadership in Jefferson Parish, including the parish president, council members, the superintendent of Jefferson Parish Public Schools, community organizations and business leaders. The trip included sessions on regional branding and economic development, infrastructure development, public education and public-private partnerships. 

We spoke with a few of last year’s attendees about what they learned and how they’re using those lessons in their day-to-day operations.

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Since the Nashville InterCity Visit, Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng has been meeting with the Inspection and Code Enforcement Department to evaluate all aspects of the permit approval process. “Some of what we have done so far is reassign responsibility for permits to other departments that are more appropriate for those types of permits,” she said.

For example, garage sale permits, which were previously handled by the Inspection and Code Enforcement Department staff, have now been reassigned to the Citizens’ Affairs Department. “Determining the appropriate departments for certain permits frees up time for staff to focus on building permits, which require technical expertise,” Lee Sheng said.

Jefferson Parish also is working on overhauling the department’s page on the parish website. “As part of the updates to the page, we want to provide all of the information up front that an applicant needs to know when making a permit application, including any additional action that needs to be taken, such as external approvals needed before the parish can issue a permit,” Lee Sheng explained.

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Meanwhile, Dr. James Gray, superintendent of Jefferson Parish Schools, said that the Nashville trip allowed him to spend quality time with Jefferson Parish stakeholders—all while sharing each other’s goals. “This time hopefully provided a clear understanding of our ‘why’ and insight into our district’s implementation practices,” he said. “The trip reiterated our understanding of the vital role a true partnership plays in building a system designed for all entities to thrive.”

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One example of this type of collaboration has been the implementation of a “Mechatronics” program at the secondary level. “This is traditionally done in the post-secondary level, but new insights gathered from the trip allowed us to see the applications in our district,” Dr. Gray said. “As a result, it helped strengthen our career and technical education programming and provided another avenue for our school-to-work pipeline. We are also working with one of our post-secondary partners (Delgado River City) to implement Mechatronics as an apprenticeship program.” 

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Additionally, Jefferson Parish Schools is actively pursuing endeavors with local businesses that will provide a pipeline of workers through increased dual enrollments, internships and apprenticeships. “Partner collaboration focuses on emerging sectors along with an awareness of a student’s career journey,” Dr. Gray said. “One recent example includes a dental internship through the LSU School of Dentistry, where students will shadow and observe patient protocols and potentially assist during procedures.”

Another attendee, Dominick F. Impastato, Jefferson Parish Councilman for District 4, said that his main takeaway was the concept of land banking, or the practice of aggregating parcels of land for future sale or development, and how it can be used for the community’s benefit. “We learned that land banking was a useful tool in our own planning of community and economic development in Jefferson Parish,” he said. “It also serves as a way to cultivate successful public-private partnerships among our parish government and private businesses. We carried this idea back to the rest of our council and parish president.”

When Jefferson Parish was awarded $84 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, Impastato led the charge to form a task force of community stakeholders to propose recommendations on where to apply those funds. “The task force voted to use land banking as one of the recommendations in expending these funds,” he said. “Our district office hired a firm to help us navigate the logistics with specific properties in mind that will greatly improve governmental services, enhancing the quality of life for our community.”

While each of these attendees found the Nashville trip to be highly valuable, Dr. Gray summed it up nicely. “These trips are important because they provide opportunities to observe practices with other key stakeholders who see the possibilities for our district and parish,” he said. “Knowing that we have a great parish that can be improved through hard work and collaboration is vital to the growth and prosperity of Jefferson Parish.”

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