What’s ‘The Big Idea,’ Franklinton?

Published 4:35 am Friday, February 23, 2018

On Saturday, Feb. 17, the FAEDF (Franklinton Area Economic Development Foundation) hosted the first “Big Idea Franklinton” business pitch competition.

There were 15 contestants across two divisions — youth and adult. The premise was simple: What would make the Franklinton area better in terms of job creation, increased tax revenue, and tourism?

Youth contestants competed for $3,000 in total scholarships while the adults competed for $10,000 total grant funding to start up or expand their business. There was an awards gala that evening at the Franklinton Country Club where Lt. Gov. Billy Nungusser and State Sen. Beth Mizell announced and presented the award checks. The winners are as follows:

Youth Division:

  • Audience Favorite ($100) — JeNia Miller and Marlaysia Robertson.
  • $1,500 Scholarship — JeNia Miller and Marlaysia Robertson.
  • $1,000 Scholarship — Richea Bertoniere.
  • $500 Scholarship — Jazmin Holliday.

Adult Division:

  • Audience Favorite ($200) — Johnny Descant.
  • $5,000 Grant — Ethan Graves.
  • $3,000 Grant — Tyre’ Jenkins and Juah Washington.
  • $2,000 Grant — Johnny Descant.

FAEDF Executive Director Ryan Seal spoke on the importance of supporting local entrepreneurs as they come together as a community to promote job creation and industrial development. This is the first event of its kind in Washington Parish and the community’s response was overwhelming, organizers said.

JeNia Miller and Marlaysia Robertson talked about the importance of a community center with activities and mentorship for the youth. This would help young people make good decisions and keeps them away from becoming “at-risk youth.” Richea Bertoniere talked about the importance of access to affordable healthcare in Washington Parish, especially for the young and elderly. She wants to become a nurse practitioner and close that gap.


Youth Division presentations

Jazmin Holliday alerted everyone to the fact that animal control in Franklinton needs improvement and offered up her idea of rehabilitating the animals to be used as service animals for PTSD victims, hospitals, and people with disabilities. Savannah Wallace introduced us to her solution for the backseat riders and road glare with her product, the backseat visor.

Selena Danos revealed her concept of an after-hours emergency animal care facility in Washington Parish to take care of all our “fur babies.” She went in to detail about the lack of access and the apparent need to bridge the gap with this needed service. She wants to become a veterinarian to serve her community in this capacity. All of the youth had very compelling pitches and all of the contestants did a wonderful job. Washington Parish is lucky to have these folks and their ideas. Expect to hear more from them in the coming years, as these are true visionaries for tomorrow.


Adult Division presentation

Ethan Graves, with Peerless Custom Beds, has been making custom beds and bedroom furniture for over a year and he is waiting to expand his horizons. His grant will allow him to purchase the equipment he needs to take his business to the next level.

Tyre’ Jenkins and Juah Washington, with Coaching Kings & Birthing Queens, are truly remarkable people. They have been mentoring the fatherless youth and teaching them what it means to be a man or woman in this day and age. They offer mentorship, academic enrichment and soul care. They help young folks in the community struggling with life work on resumes, college applications, grant and scholarship writing, and also help them align themselves spiritually.

Johnny Descant, with Soggy Bottom Gourmet Mushrooms, is a Franklinton producer who is looking to upgrade his facility to include more grow rooms, a lab, a sterile room, and expansion into wholesale operations targeting local restaurants and grocery stores.

The FAEDF also heard from Brook Fussell, who told us about the lack of family friendly activities available in Washington Parish. She reminded us of when she grew up and hung out at Dad’s Doughnuts, playing pool and socializing with her friends. She wants to recreate that concept with a modern twist to include an area for Nerf Wars, gaming stations and work out opportunities for parents and children.

Danny Garner and Steven McKenzie make up the dapper duo, Geaux Techie, who are working to provide all of Washington Parish with fixed highspeed wireless internet. This project is ambitious but with recent regulation changes and support from our president, it may be right on the horizon.

Rick Elder gave us a passionate plea for those young folks in the parish and his solution is “Ga-Ga Ball.” If you aren’t familiar, it is similar to dodge ball but played in a smaller pit, and when you are hit below the waist, you are out. He says the concept is popular at a lot of camps and he believes this is a great solution to engage our youth in the community.

Reggie Watson, owner of One Smokin’ Fella BBQ, said that he is about to break ground on his new restaurant at the entrance to Eastgate Shopping Center beside the Kwik Clinic in the vacant area. His slow smoked pork butt and flavorful homemade barbeque sauce was a hit at the awards gala.

Everybody loves Franklinton High School coach Nate Murray, and everyone could all relate to his lunchtime woes when he was sharing his struggle with trying to find lunch in Franklinton while on a one-hour lunch break. His idea is to post the lunch specials from all the area businesses on one platform, allow the user to pay electronically and schedule the delivery. He wants to use high school students as drivers, to teach them punctuality and responsibility.

Tommy Waldrep revealed staggering statistics related to youth incarceration and how he was able to avoid that path through paintball. He wants to present that opportunity to the residents and allow others to find constructive outlets for their energy.

Finally, the FAEDF heard from Robby Michel with Pine Plaza Drive-In Movie Theatre. He has commercial property on Highway 436 with a restaurant already in place to handle concessions. He wants to put up a screen to accommodate 100 vehicles and charge a minimal gate charge. Each entry would come with a food credit that can be used at the concession area.

FAEDF organizers said that the primary takeaway of the night is that there are few activities for the youth in Franklinton or Washington Parish. There is Cassidy Park in Bogalusa, the fairgrounds in Franklinton, and Bogue Chitto State Park on Highway 25. These contestants brought their solutions out for the community to hear, and the FAEDF is going to continue working with all of the adult contestants over the next several months.