For the past 46 years, Walton J. Barnes, II, has practiced Business Law, Personal Injury, Family, Succession and Probate. Since 1983, Barnes has served on the Louisiana State Bar Association Council for Family Law Section. He currently serves on the City of Central Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the City of Central Food Bank Board of Directors, and is a member of the City of Central Rotary Club and the City of Central Economic Development Committee.
Barnes practiced with his father for a time in Baton Rouge. From Baton Rouge, he moved to Zachary in the 1970s during which time he served as the Zachary city attorney for nearly twenty-five years. “I looked at the economics, the population base, and what I saw was potential growth,” Barnes said, on why he chose Zachary, “It was obvious that Zachary would brand itself, and it did.” Barnes attributes much of Zachary’s branding process to regional economic growth and the growth of Lane Regional Medical Center.
Following a change in city administration in Zachary, Barnes eventually returned to the City of Central, where he grew up and graduated from Central High School in 1963. Barnes said, “I felt like Central had that same opportunity that Zachary had in the late 1970s. The demographics here are not that dissimilar to Zachary, though we do have more people, more open space. Central has that same potential. We don’t have GP. We don’t have Riverbend. We do have the potential for a medical complex here similar to what I saw grow in Zachary.”
Despite the potential Barnes saw in Central when he moved here in 2003, he believes Central is somewhat hindering the fruition of its own potential. “The thing that has held Central back, personally, is social media, to be blunt about it. I think it brands Central in a way because we’ve picked up a reputation. People, particularly potential investors, don’t want to come here after reading who is griping about what and who has stolen from whom and who is being paid off and I think they’re [the participants] making a mess of it.” While Barnes absolutely does not condemn the tool of social media, he does hope for a growth in productive conversation as a means to educate citizens and to discuss differing opinions in a constructive manner.
According to Barnes, Central has two priority needs: branding and autonomy. “We’re on our own. The fed won’t bail us out. The state won’t bail us out,” Barnes said, “People don’t just come and dump a wheelbarrow of money in our lap. You’ve got to go look for it.” He believes a Smart Growth approach will allow Central to reach its potential. And job creation is such a vital mechanism of this Smart Growth strategy because it fosters the sustainable growth of a city. The question remains how to brand Central and how to create an autonomous economy: “Why is our population growth static? Why are we aging? And why are we retiring instead of contributing? Well, where is Central? We don’t have an ocean, so we can’t go out there and do Panamaxes like the city of Tampa did. We can’t cut a contract with Brazil like the city of Miami did because we don’t have waterways. We don’t have really any railroad connections… So what do you do to give Central its own autonomous economy? That’s what economic development has to consider.”
With hopes to create an autonomous economy while simultaneously branding Central, Barnes suggests forming a destination economy. “When one thinks of a community,” Barnes suggested, “one immediately identifies it with an attraction,” referring to Bass Pro and Juban Crossing in Denham Springs as examples. To those who argue Central lacks the connectivity from the I-10/12 corridor to create a similar destination, Barnes contends that Central “still has connectivity” because of the Central Thruway. As part of destination economy, Barnes hopes to see a development similar to Lamar Dixon in Ascension Parish but on a scale fit to Central. Without the creation of autonomy and branding, Barnes foresees “a very stagnant area if we don’t grow.” Despite the worry, Barnes feels that Central has time to accept and embrace a Smart Growth strategy to sustain this wonderful city.
Barnes remains dedicated to continue his practice and serve the Central community. He is looking to eventually teach.