Social unrest and the drive for racial equity is top of mind right now. Today, Carla talks with Quentin L. Messer, Jr, who recently wrote a powerful article about his experiences as a Black man in America. Quentin graciously joined the C2 O’Clock call on Friday, June 12 to dive deeper into his insights and share his wisdom for the path forward. He reminds us that economic developers have a unique role in the conversations about driving equity. Quentin also shares three things that economic developers should know about racial equity conversations and emphasizes the importance of hope in the future we are creating. Tune in now to hear this transformative conversation!
If you prefer to watch the conversation on video, we’ve made that available as well:
Quentin is the president and CEO of New Orleans Business Alliance, where he leads initiatives and programs related to making New Orleans the most attractive city of its size for financial and human capital investment. These initiatives and programs are conducted across four workstreams: business attraction/retention, small business growth, talent and workforce development, and strategic neighborhood development.
CRISIS TO RENAISSANCE PIVOT IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
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On March 16, we launched the Gig Economy Relief Fund to meet the needs of gig workers directly impacted by COVID-19. Gig economy workers represent more than 8 percent of the workforce in Orleans Parish, including rideshare drivers, musicians, arena workers and festival production staff, among others. As contract employees of often large corporations, gig workers tend to lack access to minimum wage, paid sick leave, overtime pay, and standard employee benefits, making them particularly susceptible to changes within the economy. With the cancellations and postponements of many of our large local events, this community is actively losing out on millions of dollars of potential income, directly impacting their livelihoods and family well-being. We set up the relief fund to ensure the economic security of these critical members of our community. We invested an initial $100,000 to launch the fund and have since grown its assets through philanthropic support to over $650,000, which will all be issued in relief grants to gig workers.
COVID-19 has devastated many portions of our community, including the cultural economy. Where possible, we must continue to do business with our gig workers, culture bearers and creatives. While we may not be able to attend live shows, we are able to tip our local musicians during their livestreams. While we may not be able to frequent our city’s art markets, our local artists are still selling their works online. Technology has enabled many of us to connect directly with our fellow New Orleanians, giving each of us the power to positively impact the economic effects of this pandemic. If you have the capacity to donate to the relief fund or to do business directly with a gig worker or small business, please do so. For many of our neighbors, their livelihoods are indeed on the line.
Like most residents, our city’s small business owners are faced with immense uncertainty in the midst of this pandemic. There’s widespread anxiety about the best way to weather this storm, particularly as the state and federal relief programs become clearer. Many of the business owners I’ve connected with are concerned about their ability to outlast the economic impacts of this time. Concerns have been raised around the long-lasting effects this period will have on their businesses, their industries and their employees, as many have had to lay off or furlough staff. What’s encouraging is that many local small businesses have taken the opportunity in this moment to pivot to meet the needs of this crisis. We’re seeing businesses like NOLA Brewing Co. shifting to make hand sanitizer, and brick-and-mortar retailers like Lionheart Prints swiftly becoming the best local source for at-home distractions like puzzles. What is shared by all is the belief that New Orleans can and will bounce back from this crisis.
We launched the Gig Economy Relief Fund at the top of the shutdown. As the leader of that effort, the past few weeks have been far more hectic than I could have imagined. Despite the rush between fundraising calls and team meetings, it has been nice to reimagine what work-life balance looks like. I’ve appreciated the flexibility and freedom of working from home and have enjoyed seamlessly moving from Zoom meetings to mid-day yoga in the living room, or simply working from my front porch. This experience has expanded my understanding of what’s possible to be accomplished in a single day, as work and personal life take on a more amorphous shape.
I’m a proud resident of Mid-City, and it feels as though all of the magic of New Orleans is just a short walk away. City Park, Bayou St. John, second lines on Broad Street, the streetcar, delicious eats from places like Piece of Meat and Neyow’s, watering holes like Twelve Mile Limit, and small local coffee shops like Monkey Monkey — these all make up the Mid-City that I love. Most of all, I love how the sunlight shines through the oak trees on my street around 4 p.m., a magic hour in a magical place.