Chamber honors its own

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Capping a politically active year, the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce underwent its natural change in leadership and celebrated community at its 85th-annual banquet on Friday.

Outgoing chair Jennifer Armand said the chamber- and school board-formed task force examining ails to Terrebonne’s public education system would present its final report of recommendations to the school system this week, offering a milestone in the predominant local issue tackled by the business group in 2013.

“Our chamber called for more planning from our school system when faced with a 31-mill property-tax referendum in May, and then, following the tax defeat, offered our assistance to the school system to prioritize needs and recommend options to address those needs,” Armand told the hundreds of gathered attendees.

Also over the course of the last year, the chamber restructured its committees and began meeting monthly on issues of education, health care and infrastructure. The chamber joined the I-49 South Coalition and has fought to delay or repeal national flood insurance reform passed by Congress in the Biggert-Waters Act.

The business group advocated in favor of a referendum in which Terrebonne joined the Bayou Lafourche Freshwater District and supported the restructuring of the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority.

“The opportunities to get involved and make a difference are endless, so my challenge tonight to you is this: Find a path, find your own way and get busy,” Armand said.

Don Hingle, regional president at Business First Bank, succeeded Armand as the board’s chair.

The chamber this year will continue focusing on the school system’s funding woes, “the reformation of TEDA,” flood protection, I-49 South corridor, Biggert-Waters, the Affordable Care Act’s impact on local businesses, issue advocacy on the state level and shepherding year three of the Best of the Bayou Festival, Hingle said.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” the incoming chair said.

In his keynote address, former Gov. Charles “Buddy” Roemer contributed to the chorus of criticism directed at the federal government.

“(The) second fact about America’s greatness is the ability of our economy to survive our government,” he said to chuckles and resounding applause, referencing tax policies that benefit big corporations and impede the success of small businesses. “If this economy can grow and not give a fair shake to small businesses, if this economy can grow 3.2 percent last quarter, 2.7 percent last year, I think it shows how strong America is. Our own government can’t keep us down.”

Roemer painted the picture that America is beloved by citizens across the world.

“No one with whom I do business doesn’t secretly wish to have a part in America, whether I’m in Japan, China, Singapore, Mexico, Spain, Germany, France, England, Israel, India, Union of South Africa,” Roemer said. “They’d rather be here.”

Roemer, now chairman emeritus at Business First Bank and a partner at RRM Investment Bank, was unsuccessful in his bid for the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

On the state level, Roemer praised Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policies on education and said future leadership and Louisiana businesses should commit to improving schools and infrastructure while taking advantage of the state’s natural resources.

The chamber also honored members of the community with awards and recognition.

Glenny Lee Buquet, who served 20 years on the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, was named The Courier’s Most Useful Citizen.

“Family, friends, community. I am so fortunate that I am right here (in Houma),” Buquet said. “I am fortunate enough to have the backing of my family as we try to do things for the children of our community.”

Buquet is active in the Terrebonne Foundation for Academic Excellence and is a former president of an advisory board of directors for the Louisiana Center for Dyslexia and Related Learning Disorders.

Also honored were Cheri Blanchard (Diplomat of the Year), Ashley Gravois (Chamber STAR), Billy and Dan Foster (Community Champions) and Eugene Folse and Ray Marcello (HTV Veteran’s Award recipients).

Additionally, the chamber recognized Mary Robichaux, selected as Terrebonne’s Teenager of the Year by the American Legion.

Robichaux is a Vandebilt Catholic High senior whose involvement includes the varsity quiz bowl team, foreign language club, art club, pro-life club, campus ministry, student council, choir, drama club, Sisters in Christ, the National Honor Society, president of the Key Club and contention to be named a valedictorian. The National Merit Scholar plans to major in biochemistry as an undergraduate but has not finalized her decision as to where she will study, she said. 

While passing the gavel, Armand summed up the chamber’s mission and past year.

“We are a proud, resourceful and hardworking business community that aims to achieve the best for our chamber, our parish and our future,” Armand said. “Our chamber was very effective this year in playing large and living a life that I believe closely matches our capabilities.”

Glenny Lee Buquet, named The Courier’s Most Useful Citizen at the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce banquet, shares a moment with Gerald Collins, last year’s award winner and Buquet’s presenter.