18 Jan NOLABA News – Commentary: How does economic development work?


Contributed by Quentin L. Messer, Jr., CEO, New Orleans Business Alliance

When people ask what I do, and I say I’m an economic developer, I often wonder what pops into their minds. Do they think I’m an economist, toiling away in some ivory tower writing white papers and appearing on TV when a recession looms or the stock market goes wild? Or do they have some other hazy explanation for what economic development means?

At the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA), we have a very specific definition. In my next few columns, I’ll present our take on economic development, along with dissecting the anatomy of a new economic development project announcement.

First, what’s NOLABA? We are the private-public partnership created by the city of New Orleans and the local business community to drive economic development within the city. Why does driving economic development matter? At the New Orleans Business Alliance, there are approximately 385,000 reasons – one for every resident of Orleans Parish.

Each of us wants a thriving economy because it means more jobs, more opportunities for our small businesses, more economic stability for our families and our neighborhoods. Economic stability frees parents to focus attention on their children, contributes to reduced crime and fosters civic well-being.

In addition, a strong urban core – i.e. Orleans Parish – can help boost the economy of an entire metro area. In many ways, as New Orleans goes, so goes the region.

When we look at cities noted for growth – Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; and Nashville, Tennessee, for example – very few have done so purely organically. In the case of Raleigh-Durham, the intentional decision to create a thriving regional economy began as early as the 1950s, with the creation of Research Triangle Park. But it took Raleigh-Durham nearly 50 years to reach the economic prominence it boasts today.

The point – real economic growth doesn’t happen overnight. It requires patience and persistence.

Fortunately, New Orleans’ playbook for economic growth already exists in ProsperityNOLA. It maps out ways for us to maximize existing assets and capitalize on global economic opportunities. At NOLABA it guides all the work we undertake, from incubating new initiatives that equitably prepare our workforce (such as Youth Force Internships), to aggressively attracting specific industry clusters (creative digital media/software, BioInnovation, etc.), to increasing opportunities for small business (anchor institution strategy), to engaging with incumbent NOLA companies to identify and hopefully remove any retardants to their growth.

This work doesn’t happen in a vacuum or accidentally. It takes cultivating a pipeline of business attraction prospects; engaging with our partners at Louisiana Economic Development, GNO Inc. and peer organizations across the region; maximizing state and municipal incentives in ways that responsibly benefit New Orleanians and companies looking to move or expand here; and participating in active conversations with the local business community.

Over the next several months, we’ll explain each of these activities and include a company’s perspective on the location decision-making process – how to choose a new city, why to stay or go and what considerations they face. I may also call on a few colleagues at NOLABA and beyond to help with making economic development more relatable and tangible.

Beyond being informative, I hope these columns will encourage you to take an active role in helping us achieve a prosperous, equitable and thriving New Orleans region for ourselves and generations to come. This work – whether by NOLABA, JEDCO, St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation or GNO Inc. – cannot be done without your help.

With great expectations for a very prosperous and productive 2016– not to mention a very Happy Mardi Gras!