Steven P. Hebert is president and CEO of the Billeaud Companies and has worked for years in the real estate industry. He was also recently named One Acadiana board chairman.
I was born and raised right here in Lafayette. My family’s roots go back several generations in and around Acadiana. I’m a Our Lady of Fatima boy and went there from kindergarten through high school, back when Fatima was a high school. It was where I met my high school sweetheart, Cindy Judice, and we have four amazing, thriving children. Depending upon who is telling the story, I started working on jobs at my father’s construction company somewhere around the age of 12 or 13. Virtually every holiday and every summer I was on construction sites doing everything from clean up, carpentry and eventually picked up the plumbing trade. This was where I learned to work hard and experienced the amazing feeling of earning money and the freedom and choices that it brings.
There have been many influences in my life, but none are more significant than my father. To me, he was larger than life. Harry Hebert, who died just over 10 years ago, was an incredible and unique man. I was so lucky to be his son. He was driven, disciplined, principled and uncompromising — such rare qualities today. I find myself gravitating to others that share those qualities.
I graduated from high school in 1979 and had a very short and unremarkable college “career.” Acadiana was in an economic boom at the time, so it was a quick and easy decision for me to work construction with my father and make good money. When it all went to hell and back mid-1980s, I started my own construction company and a plumbing company. That only lasted a couple of years in those tough economic times, and I ended up managing a small rental management company my father owned. That was my introduction to real estate. I managed individual residential rentals and homeowner associations for many years. Property management was a great education. I learned quickly that you must be extremely honest, always positive and ready and willing to tackle practically any request.
In the reading I have been doing of national research and opinions (about COVID-19’s impact on commercial real estate), the word I see most is acceleration. The virus is expected to accelerate trends that were already taking place. Acceleration to more online retail, for example, seems to make sense to me. Other segments of the market are a little harder to figure out, less predictable and will take longer for habits to be established and changes to be revealed. I don’t think by any means, and didn’t pre-virus, that brick-and-mortar retail will disappear significantly. Retail is a social experience, and operators must be better at that experience and now have to step up their online game to compete and be multi-channel. Retailers that will fail and have failed due to online competition did so because they resisted change and didn’t embrace the new realities.
While somewhat terrifying at the moment, it is an honor to lead our local chamber of commerce and our nine-parish regional economic development organization. Our mission is more important than ever due to the new struggles of the virus added to our already struggling economy. Our region is incredibly creative, entrepreneurial and hard-working. It will be a difficult couple of years, but I will bet on our area figuring out the opportunities and bouncing back from our current challenges. We have recently had legislative wins for business, and it appears our area is opening up for business and employment is returning quicker than expected.
I will be the last person in Lafayette cheering for and anticipating the return of exploration for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. There are vast tapped and untapped reserves off of our coast — it’s going to happen — but the fact is production is less expensive elsewhere. We have been in a transition to replace our primary economic driver for several years and we have done a good job. We must continue to diversify our economy and attract technology and medical employers to our area. We need to realize that employers we are competing for now can locate their companies anywhere. Ours needs to be a community and a region where employers and employees who are not from here and can work anywhere want to live. We need to work together to build an exciting, vibrant and magnetic region that will attract these companies and their employees.
With the way our state constitution is set up, higher education is always under pressure when budget time comes around. Current difficulties will not help that situation. Education and workforce development will remain difficult. At One Acadiana, I am particularly proud of our organization’s 55 by 25 Initiative. My predecessor, Natalie Harder, shepherded this program that seeks to increase the proportion of working-age adults in Acadiana with postsecondary degrees, certificates or other high-value credentials to 55% by 2025. This effort is sure to assist local employers find a quality workforce and will make our area more attractive to new employers. This is just one way One Acadiana is helping to build a quality workforce and assist in the rise in unemployment.
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