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16 Oct NOLABA News – Regional economic development forum touts gains

Regional economic development forum touts gains

10/16/2015
City Business

by Robin Shannon, Managing Editor

Expanded opportunities in the health sciences and technology sectors, coupled with new developments in upscale luxury hospitality, are helping to draw a younger population into New Orleans.

Meanwhile, neighboring communities are working to capitalize on their own commercial and retail successes, according to a regional economic development forum at Loyola University this week.

New Orleans Business Alliance CEO Quentin Messer, Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission executive director Jerry Bologna and St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation executive director Brenda Bertus each offered regional economic insights as part of a two-day real estate forecast symposium sponsored by the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors and its commercial investment division.

Messer said the city’s recent gains could put it along the trajectory of a market like Houston, allowing for additional growth that is leveraged on those new market sectors.

“We are seeing an opportunity to take advantage of our additional strengths, whether they are in energy, maritime, travel and hospitality,” Messer said. “We have the ability to web them together.”

Messer said New Orleans is one of 15 cities nationally with multiple accredited medical schools. He added that the city’s boom in creative digital companies like GameLoft, Turbo Squid, Federated Sample and GE Capital is creating an industry that wasn’t here a decade ago.

“They are taking advantage of an aggressive tax credit program that has allowed them to flourish,” said Messer.

Messer also spoke of a sort of reinvigoration in the hotel industry, with new hotel brands coming in that had not been in the city previously.

“The Central Business District has 16 hotel projects underway right now,” Messer said. “People cannot get enough of coming to New Orleans.”

There are about 5,755 hotel rooms already in the area, with another 2,330 rooms in various stages of development. New brands include Four Seasons, Moxy, Ace, Virgin and others targeting younger travelers.

In Jefferson Parish, Bologna said business leaders are working to slow the departure of top earners and younger workers who are leaving the parish for other areas. He said younger residents are more drawn to urban settings where they can both live and work.

“They aren’t living like their parents lived,” Bologna said. “They don’t go to the grocery to shop for the week. They walk in and get what they need for that evening’s dinner.”

Bologna said Jefferson Parish suffers from a bit of an “identity crisis” among the younger population. He part of the blame is the parish’s wayward permitting process, but he also touched on the its somewhat aging housing stock.

“It leaves a lot to be desired,” Bologna said. “It is something we are working on.”

In its five-year development plan, JEDCO focuses on five industry clusters that business leaders believe will have the best chance for growth: food and beverage, water transport and distribution, health care, information technology systems and coastal environment issues.

“Each sector has seen its share in gains,” Bologna said. “But we need to do more to steer some of those millennials back.”

In St. Tammany Parish, Bertus said the area has been able to wrap up 113 separate projects that generated more than $744 million in capital investment and led to more than 4,500 new jobs, with 1,700 more retained.

In 2014, the parish completed 13 projects totaling about $54.3 million in investment and 315 new jobs.

“Nine of those projects were new companies entering the community,” Bertus said. “Others were expansions of existing firms.”

Bertus said the parish’s projected population in 2020 is 258,993, making it the third largest in the state. She said massive proposed developments like 800-acre mixed use Tamanend project in the central part of the parish, and the planned Port Marigny project in Old Mandeville, will help to accommodate some of that growth.