18 Sep New Orleans Business Alliance is taking over efforts to promote the health sciences industry in the city

The Times-Picayune By Mark Waller

The New Orleans Business Alliance is increasingly taking control of efforts to build the biomedical industry in New Orleans after a state-chartered agency, The New Orleans BioDistrict, failed to find a recurring funding source and lost its CEO, who was its only employee.

The boards of the Business Alliance and the BioDistrict have approved an agreement letting the public-private economic development group run administrative tasks on behalf of the BioDistrict. The Business Alliance’s interim president, Melissa Ehlinger, said the agreement means the alliance will answer the BioDistrict’s phone calls and emails. That would ensure there is a contact point for anyone seeking information on development of the health sciences corridor around where two hospitals are under construction in Mid-City.

The BioDistrict’s charge was to focus on developing a swath of the city around that site into a hub with supporting amenities for health care and bioscience businesses and researchers beyond the hospitals themselves, which function as an anchor.The boards of the two groups announced earlier this year that they would jointly study The BioDistrict’s role and overall planning for nurturing this industry sector.

The industry is one of five priorities identified in the Business Alliance’s Prosperity NOLA economic development plan for the city. Ehlinger said the University Medical Center and Veterans Affairs Hospital projects, along with existing research at several colleges and universities in the New Orleans area and the fact that health jobs tend to pay well all point to a strong economic opportunity for the city.

“It provides good jobs, and good jobs at various levels of the ladder,” Ehlinger said.

She said New Orleans also could attract more visitors with strong health care offerings.

“There’s really a great opportunity for destination health care, if we can become renowned centers of excellence,” she said.

The business group, however, still is working on a cohesive economic development plan in this realm. The agreement with the BioDistrict board, which the Business Alliance board approved on Wednesday (Sept. 17), represents an early step.

“The conversation is ongoing,” Ehlinger said. “There’s no strategy yet formulated, and that’s recognized that it needs to happen.”

One boost to the effort, she said, was a $100,000 contribution from the LCMC Health hospital operator to the Business Alliance, announced this week. LCMC manages Children’s Hospital, Touro, the Interim LSU Hospital and the under-construction University Medical Center, among other institutions.
Ehlinger said the contribution is not dedicated specifically to the Business Alliance’s work on the health industry, but it will help.

“It’s an investment in the organization as a whole, so it’s not necessarily dedicated to one stream of
work,” she said. “It shows the continued dedication and recognition that economic development has to be holistic.”

Still, she said about what she defined as an “investment” from LCMC, “We see it as a vote of support of our work in the bio-cluster.”
In an announcement of the contribution, LCMC CEO Greg Feirn also tied the move to the goal of nurturing the industry in Mid-City.

“With University Medical Center coming on line in 2015, LCMC has a vested interest in the biomedical corridor and its development,” Feirn said. “Our team believes that caring for the community occurs beyond the walls of our hospitals and we are pleased to support the development of the New Orleans healthcare industry.”

On Thursday (Sept. 18), the Business Alliance announced it is launching a related study of the procurement needs of local health care facilities and the capacity of the city’s small businesses to provide the services and supplies.
In August, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor issued a report on the limbo state of the BioDistrict, which
lacks cash, revenue and any plan for finding revenue. It also lacks executive leadership and got into a dispute with former CEO Jim McNamara over pay he said the entity owes him.

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