28 Dec Economic Development in New Orleans: A Year in Review

A message from Quentin Messer, Jr., president & CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance. 

Happy New Year to all. 

It is that time of the year when we gather with friends and family to count our blessings, or wish for a Saints Super Bowl victory. Who Dat! Regardless of your reason to celebrate, the entire New Orleans Business Alliance staff and I wish you happy holidays and a wonderful new year.

If you’re like me, this is a time for reflection, and an opportunity to visualize the possibilities for the year ahead.

Landmark Economic Development in New Orleans

If inclusive economic development growth is measured in good paying jobs, expanded opportunities for skill development programming for our friends and neighbors and greater intentionality to creating greater local wealth through entrepreneurship, then 2018 has been one of the best years in our city’s 300-year existence.

Permit me a sports analogy. Economic growth happens in much the same way the Saints gained the inside track on a second Super Bowl, all three phases of the game excel collectively – offense, defense and special teams.

In economic development, New Orleans is playing at increasingly higher levels in all three phases of the economic development game – political leadership that sets an attractive environment for new investment; residents committing to improvements in K-12 education and throughout the adult workforce development system; and business leadership that is more and more proactive to ensure more New Orleanians have opportunities to play on a winning team as employees, business partners and customers thereby enhancing everyone’s bottom-line. 

Policy, People and Profit are the elements of complementary economic development that sets our city on a pathway for sustainable winning in the game of economic growth.  

Becoming a Tech Hub

This year, history was made when Louisiana’s largest economic development win – DXC Technology – opened its offices across from the Superdome. The company’s new technology center will employ more than 2,000 people with an average salary of $65,000.Cantrell Messer dxc technology ribbon cutting

And, the jobs are available to anyone with a high school degree or equivalent.

But, that wasn’t the only major technology announcement as Austin-based Accruent expanded to New Orleans and is committed to more than 350 new jobs.

The important aspect of our tech industry expansion is that locals no longer need to leave the city to build a career in the industries that increasingly dominate the stock market. With a critical mass of companies like Lucid, GE Digital, zLien, DXC, LookFar and Accruent, just to name a few, locals can start and build their careers locally. The tech mecca is real as witnessed by locals moving back home and finding professional opportunities thought to be exclusively the domain of California or Texas.

Local Businesses Prosper Too

Benson Dixie BreweryBusiness attraction from outside the market isn’t the only 2018 economic success story for New Orleans.

Dixie Brewery announced the return of its operations to a New Orleans East location. The company will brew one of the local favorites, creating more than 30 jobs, and it will redevelop a defunct distribution center to create a beautiful park-like entertainment location.

The civic pride of the Benson Family’s investment in Dixie Brewery models for local companies the importance of expanding local investment, especially in parts of our city where significant multi-million-dollar investments are not everyday occurrences.

But Dixie Brewery is not the only beverage in town, as one local company has expanded distribution to eight states. Leading the pack in the national kombucha craze is locally-owned, brewed and bottled Big Easy Bucha.

Located in the “The Maker’s Mile” near Gert Town, the state’s first-ever kombucha brewery is already the largest commercial kombucha brewery in the Gulf South. Big Easy Bucha plans to grow in 2019 from a handful of employees to 100.

What’s truly amazing about this business, besides its deliciously healthy tea, is the owners’ commitment to providing opportunities for residents in an intentional way. Big Easy Bucha executes its business model profitably by hiring STRIVE graduates, proving that winning with local talent is good for business.

Changing Lives One Cohort at a Time

Strive New Orleans Graduation Workforce DevelopmentWhen the New Orleans Business Alliance integrated with the former Network for Economic Opportunity in January, it was clear that increasing the number of stable employment opportunities enhances the economic security of the direct job recipient and all New Orleanians.

As part of the integration, four “Opportunity Center” partners – JOB1, Goodwill Industries, Total Community Action, and the Urban League – work with the Business Alliance’s own STRIVE NOLA to offer job training, job placement and job retention services for any New Orleanian who may have non-skill barriers to stable employment.  

This year alone, more than 260 students graduated from the STRIVE professional development program. That represents 260 more of our friends and neighbors who will lead themselves and their families to more economic security.

Strengthening our Communities

community innovation districtFinally, all of us require a sense of place.

The Saints enjoy a tremendous home-field advantage because of the atmosphere created in the Dome. The same is true for a city. 

New Orleans is globally larger than her population because our neighborhoods play larger than our actual numbers. This year, the Business Alliance recognized a need to be more intentional about our commitment to ensuring that economic security was not isolated or confined to a few parts of our city, but could reach from the Twin Span to the I-10/I-610 split and across the Mississippi River Bridge. 

Being strategic about neighborhood development is the morally right thing to do, the profitable thing. It ensures that all communities move closer to fully realizing their commercial potential. Through the pilot Cultural Innovation District, the Claiborne  Corridor, we are proving out this hypothesis and underscoring that without vibrant neighborhoods, we lose that winning edge.

Through the Claiborne Innovation District, the first Claiborne Corridor Merchants and Business Association was created; a partnership with the University of New Orleans to train resident neighborhood development leaders became a reality; and, we helped create the Ujamaa Economic Development Corporation made up of residents and property-owners who are increasingly better equipped to recycle dollars in their community and have more dollars to spend throughout our city.

Gaining Recognition and Looking Ahead

Our collective work is not going unnoticed. More and more, people around the country recognize New Orleans as a thought leader for cities committed to making the economy work for all of its citizens without sacrificing the tenets required to attract financial and human capital. It’s no wonder that we rank among the top cities for young entrepreneurs, that Louisiana has the nation’s leading workforce development program or that we are one of the top cities for tech growth.

As the Saints approach the playoffs and eventual hoisting of the Lombardi Trophy, they realize that continual improvement is required in all three phases of the game. The New Orleans Business Alliance’s work with each of you is no different. 

Each day, we must encourage and support our elected political leadership and provide them with the information and tools to evaluate all policy through the lens of economic competitiveness.  That is the Policy phase of the economic development game.

Each day, we must push ourselves to become more vigilant and creative in reaching more New Orleanians and connecting them to economic opportunity through training, skill development and entrepreneurial support. That is the People phase of the economic development game.

Each day, we must more aggressively make the case that an economy that excludes no one is more profitable for everyone. As in football, it is all about having as many of your teammates around the ball. This is the Profit phase of the economic development game. 

We have unfinished business to ensure that the work of 2018 is built upon, refined and improved in 2019 so that all of our friends and neighbors have the chance to be in the economic growth game. 

It will be not easy and there will be bumps in the road. Notwithstanding how any individual day of 2019 might look, like our beloved Saints, I really like our chances for eventual success in the New Year.

With expectations that 2019 will exceed our collective wildest expectations,

 

Quentin