by Jim Smilie
The City of Alexandria renamed the former Central Louisiana Business Incubator site in honor of the late Johnie Varnado during a ceremony in June. The facility, located at 1501-A Wimbledon Boulevard, is now the Johnie M. Varnado Alexandria Business Development Center.
“As we go through life, I think most of us hope that we are able to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Johnie Varnado definitely did that. It’s amazing how many lives she touched through her work,” noted Mayor Jeff Hall. “In my mind, Johnie’s legacy is far more than a sign on a building. It’s that relentless, can-do spirit she had and brought out in others.”
State Representative Mike Johnson and Alexandria-Pineville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Sherry Smith as well as former employees and business owners Varnado helped during her career shared their memories of working with the late community leader.
Varnado, a well-known and highly respected business and civic leader, started her own business, KaZette Enterprises, Inc., in 1986 selling and repairing computers. Over time, the business diversified to include consulting services for organizations seeking to increase their profits and/or productivity as well as management of federal- and state-funded programs providing technical assistance to small businesses and non-profit organizations.
Serving as the administrator of the LA Department of Economic Development’s Small and Emerging Business Development (SEBD) program for both the City of Alexandria and the Ministers of Economic Development (MOED) allowed her the opportunity to assist many small businesses.
Varnado was the first African-American president of the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, she was co-founder of the Ministers of Economic Development; founder and past chair and president of the Central Louisiana Business League; a lifetime member of the National Business League; past president and commissioner of the Alexandria Regional Port Authority; a member of the board of directors of CHRISTUS Health Central Louisiana; a member of the Rotary Club of Alexandria; and a member of the North Rapides Business and Industry Alliance (NRBIA).