Dardenne touts Louisiana’s unique culture, venues; says will run for gov

Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne said Wednesday the long history of Louisiana goes back thousands of years.
At Poverty Point in extreme northeast Louisiana near Epps, Dardenne told Chamber of Commerce members and guests at a luncheon at the Forest Restaurant in Franklin, there is a 3,500-year-old earthworks made by Native Americans.
“They were hunters and gatherers,” he said. “There’s no evidence of them ever growing crops, but what they brought back in great abundance was dirt. Imagine 3,500 years ago the means of transportation to haul literally millions of baskets of dirt from the Mississippi River to build six magnificent mounds that still exist today. There was a very sophisticated series of settlements built around a common plaza that became known as Poverty Point.”
Those mounds were the highest in North America at the time, Dardenne said, and are up for nomination as a World Heritage site, joining such other sites as the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon among others.
“They laid the foundation for who we are as a people today,” Dardenne said of those indigenous people. “Followed by Spaniards many, many years later, Desoto who discovered the Mississippi River, then a Frenchman, LaSalle, who came on behalf of the King of France to explore this valley. He got out of a boat, planted a cross in the ground and christened this place Louisiana.”
Settlers from France followed, then Germans, Sicilians and others from across Europe, as well as slaves from Africa, eventually creating a unique cultural population in Louisiana.
After the Louisiana Purchase, the “white Anglo-Saxon protestant” began arriving in Louisiana, already heavily populated by people of the Catholic faith. “They became part of this human gumbo that became Louisiana,” Dardenne said.
More than 26.3 million people visited the state last year to take in that unique culture, he said. Those visitors spent $10.7 billion in Louisiana, leaving behind $665 million in taxes “that you didn’t pay, I didn’t pay, and that our fellow Louisianans didn’t pay, that went to state government to pay for vital services.”
Tourism is a big business for the state, and Dardenne said he regards it as an industry. “Oftimes policy and decision makers don’t view tourism as a business,” he said. “It’s viewed as a luxury…they need to understand the importance of marketing our state in a way that is going to increase traffic to Louisiana. Last year was a record  year.”
Foreigners look at America as a great country but “they look at Louisiana as if it were its own country,” Dardenne said. “Particularly those of Francophone origin, the Canadians and the French, who have such a connection to Louisiana. We’ve never taken full advantage of that relationship, and we’re trying to enhance the number of people coming from French-speaking countries. They stay longer, they spend more money and they are much more interested in traveling around the state not simply going to a conference in New Orleans then going home.”
Dardenne said economists believe the future of Louisiana reveals “an incredible level of growth in the oil and gas sector, drilling resuming offshore. Natural gas production is off the charts right now.”
Because of Louisiana’s film tax incentives Louisiana is now the third top movie-making venue in the nation, he said, and continuing to grow. “Not everybody in our state is Troy Landry or has the ZZ Top beard, but these guys do, and they’re authentic Louisianans and people are interested in authenticity,” Dardenne said.
Competing for tourism dollars is tough, he said, noting that states are dramatically increasing their spending to draw visitors while noting that “I don’t want any more money allocated to tourism. I just want to be allowed to spend the money allocated by law that’s supposed to come to the Office of Tourism to promote Louisiana. We get about $23 million a year…unfortunately almost half of the pot was peeled off last year and redirected to other purposes.”
Dardenne’s office also heavily promotes Louisiana music, and has created a new website:
 www.louisianasoundtrack.com
The site lists live music venues and nearby dining and other attractions.
A marketing effort for next year to be called “Only in Louisiana” will center on the unique events and experiences in the state.
Visitors often become investors, Dardenne said, often inquiring where to invest in the state.
Retirement is another emphasis Dardenne places, attracting people to the state for their later years. “We’re more active, we have more expectations of what we want to do, we’re looking for activities, and here in Louisiana we’ve got three national publications naming Louisiana among the top 10 states to retire,” he said. “If we’re doing that good now, imagine how good we’ll do if we put a little effort into it?”
He said he is a strong supporter of the I-49 initiative and the benefits it will bring to tourism; he also said he is willing to work with Native American tribes to help promote what they have to offer to visitors.
Asked if he plans to run for governor, Dardenne said he has not officially announced, but it is his intention to do so.

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