When Tommy Falgout was in his twenties, overseeing the staff of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Abbeville and developing its program, he once spent a day on the club’s rooftop as a stunt to increase membership. He also rode a large tricycle and ate baby food (of the staff’s choice). In the end he overshot his membership goal by some 40 kids and received a merit award from Boy & Girls Clubs of America.
A few years later, the New Iberia native brought the idea of Boys & Girls Clubs to New Iberia in a presentation to business people and elected officials at the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce. It was in the same room where, this year, he interviewed for the position of Chamber President and CEO – and later got the job. It’s been a long journey from his early jobs with the city of New Iberia: a basket boy at the city pool at age 10, head basket person at 14, lifeguard, and eventually moving into management. He also coached biddy basketball at 13 and the All-Stars until he was 21.
Since the days of his own youth, Falgout has gone on to “help those kids who needed it the most,” through his work in organizing, operating and supervising Boys and Girls Clubs in Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas. In New Orleans he was the CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs. His efforts brought him the honor of Youth Development Professional of the Year for the southeast region of Boys & Girls Clubs.
Before coming to the Iberia Chamber, Falgout worked at Eckerd Connects in St. Martinville, helping to qualify 18- to 21-year-olds for work and career assistance. “For many working in the summer youth program, it was their first job experience, and in some cases turned into full-time careers for them,” says Falgout, who officially took over his new Chamber position in mid-August.
Since becoming the Iberia Chamber President and CEO, Falgout has busied himself meeting business owners and speaking with community groups, including Crime Stoppers and Leadership Iberia (he was a member of the first class). He has visited facilities like the New Iberia Research Center and Iberia Medical Center, whose workforce contribute much to the community. Already he’s been visible at ribbon cuttings and civic club meetings, representing the Chamber membership.
With a goal to support and promote business in all of Iberia Parish, Falgout understands that the bigger and more diverse the businesses and workforce, the better opportunity for more tax dollars and educational opportunities, and the better the community will be. “The tools are all there through tourism, our parks, schools, the airport, healthcare. We should constantly be looking to get better,” he says.
In another important part of his job, Falgout explains the Chamber’s functions to others by networking through events, education and workforce development, media opportunities like Positively Iberia on KANE radio, and programs such as Leadership Iberia and FireStarter.
In building relationships and trust with people, he employs skills he learned from his time with the Boys and Girls Clubs. “We gave kids a sense of power, belonging, confidence and usefulness. Everyone wants to feel like they’re needed and belong, and they want their voice heard. It’s no different at the Chamber, where I can continue to make people feel that they are valuable and someone will listen to their ideas,” he asserts.
His work with non-profits exposed Falgout to a diversity of people and gave him what he considers one of his strongest attributes: being a good listener. “This job is for someone who listens,” he says nodding, “and I’m always willing to learn and take it in and be a catalyst for that information. I never go anywhere saying ‘this is what I’m going to do.’ I’m standing on the shoulders of the people before me and continue to do what works well and improve and grow the Chamber and get more business in. My predecessor and staff have done a phenomenal job of bringing in new members.” As a business ambassador, Falgout sees a Chamber membership as an "investment in the community, with a return of new customers, promotion from ribbon cuttings, networking and educational or workforce development opportunities."
Enthusiastic about the business activity in the city, he says, "I think New Iberia is a best kept secret. There's a lot going on here: new types of technology, stores and restaurants, and we need to capitalize on that in all districts of the city. For our community to thrive, we have to consider everyone. For instance, we need a city pool to give kids memories and opportunities to learn to swim. Years ago, we used to teach 1,500 kids swimming lessons.”
Now living in the home where he grew up, Falgout is still going through boxes of memorabilia. He’s discovered a small wooden box of his father’s with a collection of lapel pins from Rotary Club, Optimist Club, Lion’s Club and CLECO. There are old pictures and newspaper articles from his father’s involvement in pony baseball, biddy basketball, and Parks and Recreation, and his mother’s teaching days at Pesson Elementary.
“This is where I want to spend the rest of my career,” says Falgout, with a nostalgic tone. “I’d like to see our business community grow and prosper with good schools, more businesses and fun events to create an environment that makes businesses want to come here. The more we can do to make our community viable, the better for everyone.”
~Unusual Talents/Hobbies: Loves to try different restaurants and traveling. He drew house plans as a kid (redesigned his parent’s home regularly). Likes to cook - even bakes.
~Recommended Read: Who Moved My Cheese, and books on leadership by Ken Blanchard.
~Favorite Movie: Documentaries, like the story of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, DC vs. Marvel comic movies, and movies made in Louisiana, like In the Electric Mist.
~Hangouts in New Iberia: City Park, coffee shops (for iced coffee) and all the restaurants.