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504ward Celebrates 10 Years of Connecting Young Professionals to Jobs and the New Orleans Business Community


Ten years ago, New Orleans was in the early stages of recovering from Hurricane Katrina. In addition to locals working to rebuild, thousands of talented young people from across the country flocked to the city to help. With this terrific “brain gain,” the challenge was how to hold onto them. Thus, 504ward was founded to keep talented young professionals, both local and new arrivals, in New Orleans.

Now the organization is celebrating its 10-year anniversary while looking forward to its next chapter.

“In the years following the storm, New Orleans saw an influx of highly-motivated, smart young people who were returning and new to the city,” said Leslie Jacobs, who initially founded the initiative. “The challenge New Orleans faced was how to retain all of this talent. So, we founded 504ward to create a welcoming and open environment that would help everyone become better connected to the city. That strategy has created an incredible economic asset for New Orleans.”

In fact, the role of the young professional network has proven so important to the city’s economic development success that 504ward recently integrated into the New Orleans Business Alliance and its efforts to increase new business investment, attract and retain talent, and grow the city’s economy.

“The work of 504ward is essential to the growth of the upward trajectory that the New Orleans economy is experiencing,” said Quentin L. Messer, Jr., CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance. “Our young professionals represent our community’s next business leaders, entrepreneurs, government, and not-for-profit leaders. Participants in 504ward have made a tremendous impact on our city and are poised to continue transforming our city for the better. New Orleans has become a thriving entrepreneurial hub, and the success of the businesses that have grown here, like Dixie, Lucid, zlien and Big Easy Bucha, and those that have chosen to invest here, like DXC Technology, Accruent, and inXile, depends on the strong local talent that 504ward supports.”

10 Years of Success, Tens of Thousands of Connections

Today, an astounding number of people in leadership positions who were in their 20s and 30s just after Katrina have benefitted from 504ward, such as Damon Burns, executive director of the Finance Authority; Jennifer Medbery, founder of Kickboard; Fred Neal Jr., RTA board member and founder of Ride; Jade Russell Brown, attorney and former interim director of the Sewerage and Water Board; Allen Square, former City CIO and founder of Square Button; Chris Schultz, founder of Launch Pad; and Austin Lavin, an associate with Corporate Realty and founder of WorkNOLA; among many others.

504ward continues its work to connect young professionals to people, events, and opportunities to ensure that New Orleans is aplace for them to thrive.

Since its founding, 504ward has reached more than 22,500 21-35 year-olds, connecting them to local leaders and institutions. One of its most popular tools is the twice-weekly e-mail highlighting opportunities for civic and social engagement, leadership development, and career advancement opportunities through the promotion of a featured job opening each day, in partnership with WorkNOLA.

Another 504ward featured program is its Dine Around series, which brings young professionals into the homes of civic and business leaders for a dinner of networking, advice, and conversation. In the past 10 years, more than 3,000 young professionals have dined at the homes of more than 100 civic and business leaders.

“I participated in a Dine Around dinner hosted by Vera Triplett, centered around the amazing education innovation in our city. At the dinner, I met several individuals working to make education more equitable, including the founder of Operation Spark, a nonprofit that teaches software development to high school students and adults. A few months later I enrolled, and the rest is history. Within five days of graduating from the immersive bootcamp, I landed a job at GE Digital. I have a new career thanks to 504ward. I am forever grateful,” said Rose Espiritu, Software Engineer at GE Digital.

More Than 200 Celebrating With Service

To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, 504ward organized a “Young Professional Day of Service” at sites across the city.Nonprofits whose missions range from improving affordable housing to green infrastructure have all joined in. More than 200 young professionals are currently signed up to participate.

When the work is done, volunteers are invited to an after party and fair featuring young professional organizations at Central City BBQ. Registration information and further details about the Day of Service can be found at 504ward.com/youngprofessionaldayofservice. Lyft, the official transportation partner for the event, is providing discounted rides for volunteers to get to-and-from project sites and the after party.

About The New Orleans Business Alliance

One of only 70 Accredited Economic Development Organizations worldwide, the New Orleans Business Alliance is the official economic development organization for New Orleans. Formed in 2010, the public-private partnership is focused on inclusive, holistic economic development. NOLABA works to attract new business to New Orleans, grow existing businesses, and revitalize neighborhoods while facilitating comprehensive workforce development programs beneficial for jobseekers and employers. By pursuing an inclusive strategy, all New Orleanians will have enhanced economic security. Visit nolaba.org for information.

About 504ward

504ward is a collaborative initiative with a mission to attract and retain young professional talent within the Greater New Orleans region. Founded in 2008, 504ward supports young professionals through programs, events, and communications that highlight opportunities for civic and social engagement, career advancement, and leadership development. Visit504ward.com for more information.


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