08 Feb NOLABA News – What it takes to lure economic development to New Orleans

CityBusiness Guest Perspective 

Contributed By Quentin L. Messer, Jr. and Abhay Patel

As mentioned in the first column of this year, our goal is to share with CityBusiness readers how economic development works and why it matters. At the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA), economic development matters because there are more than 380,000 people in Orleans Parish counting on the health of our local economy to support their families, their businesses, the unique NOLA way of life and the dreams we all cherish for the next generation of New Orleanians.

Just like a business would develop sales leads, then execute a strategy to close deals with those targets, we at NOLABA – and other professional economic development organizations (aka EDOs) – develop and cultivate a pipeline of business attraction prospects, then work to convert them to wins.

Our targets include site selectors representing major corporations and mid-size companies (think of our work as “It’s Just Lunch” between companies and competing locations).  In these instances, Louisiana Economic Development (LED) is often a company’s initial point of contact. LED disseminates the lead to regional EDOs like GNO, Inc. and to us at the local level. Once we get a prospect, we champion New Orleans to the company’s decision maker.

EDOs also rely on industry relationships and expertise to meet companies. Such was the case with LED’s initial outreach to a New Orleans newcomer, game developer inXile. InXile executives were specifically interested in Orleans Parish because they considered it a better fit for their company’s creative nature than other locations. Over the course of more than a year, LED, GNO Inc. and NOLABA spoke to inXile executives. Then, in mid-2015, NOLABA and GNO Inc. reached out to the company to communicate the implications of recently enacted incentive changes and explain how inXile could best leverage them.

Once inXile executives better understood the immediate opportunity that expanding to New Orleans presented, GNO and NOLABA led a series of visits here to help them learn more about their options, meet members of the local business community and determine when and where they would set up shop. By the time inXile announced its new office on Oak Street in October, the process had taken more than two years.

This year, NOLABA’s business development team will attend multiple startup tech and bio events around the nation, scouting high-growth-potential companies that could advance their financial position and development by relocating to or expanding in New Orleans. As these companies are identified, it’s a bit like courting a free agent athlete.  Fortunately, we live in a highly attractive and interesting city that, in part, sells itself once we clarify common misperceptions. There is more to New Orleans than the wonderful French Quarter; we have a growing, highly talented workforce in software development and big data analytics.

The more high-growth-potential companies like inXile and Smashing Boxes that we attract to join Lucid, Search Influence and TurboSquid, among others, the higher the probability that one or more has an exit event that transforms the community (as Dell’s IPO did for Austin, Texas). When a startup goes public or is acquired for a lot of money, the event infuses major investment capital into a city – here, by employing more New Orleanians and/or adding to the ranks of our angel investor community.

In many ways, economic development is multi-stakeholder sales. But behind the ribbon cuttings and press releases that mark our wins are countless face-to-face meetings, unanswered phone calls, cancelled flights and rubber chicken meals. It is an often arduous process that we undertake happily for the more than 380,000 fellow citizens who count on us to improve the city’s economy and their lives.

Quentin L. Messer, Jr. is president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance. Abhay Patel is vice president of business development and strategy.