SB Magazine sat down with Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins to discuss his administration’s plan for Shreveport in the next four years. Mayor Perkins’s three key points of his campaign platform were to reduce crime, increase mixed income growth, and use technology to accomplish both.
SB: To reduce crime you’re going to increase the number of patrol officers on the streets. Does that equate to hiring more police officers?
AP: We really don’t have to toy much with the natural cycle of bringing new recruits into the police force. Increasing patrol officers means going into some of our specialty units and breaking them down and putting them on patrol so that we can increase those numbers. It also means looking at the policies that are kind of responsible for the reasons there are so few patrol officers. One of those policies, just to give you an example, that became very public is the medical leave policy. A police officer can be on medical leave 364 days of the year, come back one day and then go back on to medical leave. So, of the 200 plus patrol officers that are on our streets, there are over 20 that are on medical leave right now and they can be on medical leave all year. It’s looking at some of those policies and looking at the specialty units and trying to figure out how you get more officers in the neighborhoods. That’s how we’re attacking that right now. We’ve already, myself and the Interim Chief Ben Raymond, started to put more officers on the street. That started on day one.
SB: You want to foster a bond between the police officers and the neighborhoods they serve. How do you go about doing that?
AP: I had conversations with a bunch of police officers, again talking to the leadership. Prior to, there’s what’s called community liaison officers and they’re at a lot of our recreation centers. They tie into a bunch of our neighborhood associations and those community liaison officers were primarily leaned on to create the relationships in the community for the police department. Our patrol officers were essentially driving through neighborhoods or sitting in neighborhoods waiting to respond but there’s been a new emphasis pushed by myself and the chief to make sure that those patrol officers, if they have any time, are getting out of their vehicles, going and knocking on doors and introducing themselves. They too are creating bonds with the community and we’re not just relying on those community liaison officers. There are also captains responsible for districts or areas, as well. There are four areas that encompass the entire city. We have those captains out now doing more outreach with the community alongside those liaisons. Having more men and women in uniform out there talking to the community is how we’re going to bridge that divide.
SB: You mentioned establishing Queensborough and Caddo Heights as Opportunity Zones. Can you talk about that a little bit and tell me about that process? And what are the advantages of being an Opportunity Zone?
AP: Opportunity Zones is a very new federal program. Shreveport put in for seven. We were only approved for five. The Federal government put it up to the governors of each state to approve these programs so our governor approved five of the seven that we applied for and you already pointed out some of the neighborhoods that these programs are going to go into. What the program does is offer preferential tax treatment to companies that are investing in those neighborhoods. It’s a tax incentive that gives a federal abatement to companies that want to invest in those neighborhoods. Why that is so important is that throughout my campaign I talked about equitable growth throughout our city — that mixed income growth — and talked about investing in areas that have been resource deprived historically. That allows us to encourage companies to go into those areas that have been resource deprived and start to invest resources in them to kind of change the neighborhoods.
SB: Let’s talk about the economy. Decades ago, we had large companies here. We had GM, AT&T, Boots Pharmaceutical. They operated plants here. Then they left, and thousands of people lost their jobs. Why do you think they left and what are the keys to bringing large businesses back and keeping them here?
AP: You can look at national trends as to why they left. Outsourcing became a very big thing around the time that they left in the 80s and 90s. So a lot of them fell into that natural global trend of ‘hey let’s go where labor is cheap.’ Well, we see now that a lot of those companies are coming back because they figured out that more sophisticated manufacturing can take place etc. and we can provide that type of labor here in the United States. I think it’s a very unique opportunity for us to seize those markets that we lost years ago. My vision for how we seize that is we have to be better marketers for our city. And that’s along with various things — you want your city to be safer. You want the citizens to be proud of the city but you also want to point to very concrete things that the city can offer these companies. Shreveport is prime real estate for distribution centers and to be a distribution hub, which is extremely important in the e-commerce era. We have a river here. We have rail here. We have an airport that will soon be an international airport, I’m confident of. And we have a port here. We have two interstates dissecting our city and that’s all the raw material that you need to really showcase yourself as a distribution center and really attract those manufacturers who can ship out products right from here. There’s a lot we have to offer to employers and corporations. And I’m going to do that every single day of my administration and I have been.
SB: An international airport—wouldn’t that be a very big project? What would it take? New runways?
AP: No. Our runways can already handle the largest aircrafts, 747s. It’s actually not as big as a lot of people think. What you need to do is apply to the FAA and the FAA has criteria for airports to meet to get the international designation. Once the FAA approves it, the biggest hurdle is actually a marketing campaign and making sure that everybody knows that Shreveport is Shreveport International not Shreveport Regional. What’s powerful about the Internet age is a lot of people only Google the airports that they’re looking to ship cargo to and from, so it will pop up as an international airport. Again, the concrete part there is that our customs agents will be available 24/7 to receive international cargo. A perfect model for what we want to happen here in Shreveport we can look to Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee changed the designation (of its airport) and is very similar to Shreveport with their infrastructure, access to water and interstate. They changed their airport to international status and saw a lot of cargo increase coming into that airport. When the cargo coming to the airport increased, that means they got to collect a lot more dollars for landing fees and a lot more aircrafts were landing there to refuel. The airport became a big asset to the city. The next year, the airport was rated Florida’s number one airport of the year and after that they received millions of grant funding to continue to expand the airport. Passenger flights are the horizon next for Tallahassee so that’s exactly the path we need to take, that Shreveport needs to take, so we can not only generate more revenue from our airport but create more routes for local passengers, domestically lower prices and eventually get the international passenger capabilities to our airport.
SB: So, one of Shreveport’s challenges is marketing? We need to market ourselves?
AP: Yes. We really do. Marketing is a challenge but also you need the right people marketing. You need to have them around a singular vision showing that the future of Shreveport is bright for everybody, not just local citizens but everybody else that wants to be involved. If you want to move here, if you want to be a tourist here. So yes, it’s marketing around a vision for the city.
SB: You created a new position, Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Can you tell me about that position?
AP: I took a class in law school called City’s Use of Technology, and one of the leading experts in technology in the country says when he looks at cities, it’s an immediate indicator to tell him whether or not that city is technologically savvy or whether they’re way far behind. If they have an IT director or if they have a chief technology officer, that’s the very quick indicator. He says it shows where that city’s mind is around technology. I’m not saying that’s the only thing we have to do but it’s a great start for my administration to identify somebody who could do chief technology officer work. Now the difference in a CTO versus an IT manager is that the CTO is thinking about how to leverage technology in a strategic way, not just internal to city government but how can the city leverage technology to pursue policies that are advantageous for the city to deliver city services in a much better way, how can they use technology from public safety initiatives. I was looking for somebody who can—the position is over the IT department. It was the former IT director, and now there’s the chief technology officer, so that position not only has to monitor the department now but they’re also responsible for strategic technology aims as well. So we created a position, but there is still an IT director that’s going to be managing the IT stuff internally and the IT director’s boss will be the CTO. So, we created a position but fiscally we didn’t spend any extra money. As a matter of fact, we’ve saved money in the IT department by the structure that I’ve set up.
SB: Are there any other new positions in your administration?
AP: There will be. We’re still looking at those positions. We’re going to have an education liaison that will be a new position, just trying to partner city government closer to our education system and not just K-12. I also want a partner for our higher education academic institutions so that person is going to have a pretty big task. That education liaison is also going to be helping economic development with work force development in working with Caddo Parish schools, Centenary, LSUS and Southern to make sure the students are best prepared to enter in the work force and be the best citizens they can be.
SB: What is MyGovernmentOnline.gov?
AP: MyGovernmentOnline.gov is going to revolutionize our current permitting process. Prior to, you had to mail in documents or you had to physically go in and fill documents out and submit them. And what a lot of people — a lot of business owners — complained about and talked about was how the MPC (Metropolitan Planning Commission) and permitting has stifled our economy because they say it’s too burdensome. The wait is very long. You’ll fill out a document and something will be wrong on it and you won’t know it until you’re to your back… what this does is it allows people from the comfort of their own home to submit the documentation properly and get feedback immediately as well if they’ve done something wrong. You’re talking about cutting down wait times exponentially. Often, we were compared to Bossier about how quickly they get things done over there with their MPC, and we’re going to be studying this process after MyGovernmentOnline is rolled out. We’ll be able to present numbers on wait times in Shreveport versus Bossier and other regional cities, as well, to show that Shreveport really is open for business and you can do it pretty efficiently here. It won’t be online until March.
“It’s a priority. We have to get that done as quickly as possible.”
SB: What else do you plan to do to help eliminate the red tape for entrepreneurs and small businesses?
AP: Bringing them around the table more. In talking to entrepreneurs and business owners locally, they felt disjointed from city government so it’s going to start with my transition team. I’ve already identified an advisory board. The actual transition team will be announced very soon. I have eight committees that will be working and one of those committees is economic development. On that economic development committee, we have a lot of business owners that are sitting on it and one of their tasks is to help me identify an economic advisory board so that we can make sure the MPC and my economic development department is always tied in to the people that feel our economy first which are the employers. I think that will help us a lot in bridging the gap a lot of people feel was severed between government and the business sector.