This has been quite the summer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Alton Sterling (July 5th). The ambush/shooting that resulted in the death of three law enforcement officers (July 17th). The flood of epic/biblical/Zeus tossing lighting bolts/’Tony Perkins didn’t understand God” proportion (August 12th /13th /14th).
We were reeling, as a community, after the first two events; it’s the kind of news coverage no city wants. We’re used to national or international news being made due to (1) LSU football (2) the foolishness of our government/former governor or (3) because somebody is singing “Me and Bobby McGee” at some karaoke bar while drunkenly lamenting (in kinship with Janis Joplin) about being ‘busted flat in Baton Rouge.’ (admit it; you just sang along to that….didn’t you?)
Then came the flood.
But let’s rewind.
How do we spin this mofo?
After the Alton Sterling shooting (and weeks of protest marches) and the grief that settled on the region after the killing of the 3 officers, people were unsettled. Obviously.
How could this be happening to good old Baton Rouge? We’re a charming city halfway between New Orleans and Lafayette! Oh sure, we may have the worst traffic along the entire stretch of I-10 but we’re the city that Garth Brooks sings about for God’s sake. We have unbelievable food, great music, friendly people, and what many consider the epitome of college football tailgating traditions. Are we a bit behind the times with a soupcon of (hidden) southern racism? Well, yeah. But, by God, we’re also bustling and growing and working super hard to change.
But then … pow. Ouch. A punch to the collective solar plexus. Awful and heart wrenching and devastating.
But, because our Baton Rouge Area Chamber (of Commerce) has a really super cool Talent Development group (seriously; the two awesome women that have led this since its inception are so incredibly stellar), they convened a meeting of local HR/Recruiting/Talent leaders on August 3rd so we could chat about positioning Baton Rouge as an employment destination after these two events. We discussed how, as employers, we’re promoting opportunities to in-demand talent and discussing relocation with people who, let’s face it, never considered BR as a career destination in the first place. We dove into WTF is IBM going to do? What about our local mega-hospitals? How do we convince Justin and/or Jasmine to choose Baton Rouge over Austin or Dallas or Atlanta or Seattle? This was, obviously, a challenging task before July; by August 3rd this was starting to seem like a chore of Sysiphean proportion.
Then the rain fell.
Two weeks after this meeting we had 31 inches of rain in 2 days. Mud and sludge and water, water, water. Mold and more mold and mold upon mold. We now live amongst sheetrock and gutted homes. Our residents talk about lost cars and lost homes and, sadly, lost lives. We had entire cities decimated in a matter of hours.
How do you dig out from crap like that?
A woman I work with arrived at the office yesterday for the first time since the flood. She gave me her iPhone and we swiped through hundreds of pictures of her house. Saved for her own memories, of course, but also saved as the necessary documentation for FEMA and the SBA and the insurance adjustors and the company’s employee assistance fund/foundation and for God and baby Jesus and anyone else who could help.
We looked at pictures of her life; everything piled on the curb in Denham Springs, LA. We giggled at the photo of her son-in-law, sweating profusely after ripping down water-soaked walls in 95 degree heat/humidity. In one photo he sprawled in a lawn chair, beer in hand, shouting exuberantly to a room with concrete floors; nothing (save him and his outstretched arms), blocking the view from the front door to the far back of the house.
She wept, just once, as she told me about her mother’s belongings that are now lost forever; tangible mementos from her childhood and her mother’s life that now sit in a 10 foot high pile of garbage waiting for the Waste Management truck to scoop up on its next pass through the neighborhood.
She dealt with all this in just two weeks. She’s back on the job.
But not everyone is.
Hiring (not just recruiting) is local
Those problems we discussed on August 3rd (one month ago today) seem almost solvable now in light of recent developments. Not to sweep those July events under the rug of course; crime and institutional racism are not trivial by any matter. That hen has yet to come home to roost.
But how, locally, do we recruit in a market where people are in need of putting their lives back together before they even consider looking for a new job? How do we entice folks to move here when there is no housing stock on the market, apartments are booked across a 20 parish region, and people are on waiting lists of 600+ just to get a rental car? (note: guy at work told me yesterday he could get a rental car if he was willing to drive to Oklahoma and then, once he was done with it, drive it back to Oklahoma).
The economic recovery in south Louisiana is projected to take a year. Retired Lt. Gen. Russell Honoré, who coordinated military response in New Orleans after Katrina, says he expects it will be 8 – 10 years. (Have always loved me some General Honoré; that man needs to run for POTUS).
We have thousands of residents displaced, thousands of Louisianians homeless, and thousands more destined to feel the full force of emotions hit them in a few days, weeks or months. How do we triage that?
Would you move to Baton Rouge for a career opportunity?
There’s the ultimate talent question.
Source me some of that.