Eight years ago this month, Hurricane Katrina struck our shores, devastated our state and left the city of New Orleans in peril. Many people thought the city would never fully recover, but state and local leaders have worked together to prove the doubters wrong. What has happened in the eight years since Katrina is truly remarkable, as New Orleans has reestablished its historical position as one of the world’s great cities for both culture and commerce.
When I took office, we set out to make Louisiana the best place in the world in which to live, work and raise a family. In order to do so, we immediately got to work on strengthening governmental ethics laws, cutting taxes, revamping our workforce development programs and reforming our education system so that we could create a competitive business climate. Thanks to these and other reforms, targeted state investments and aggressive business development efforts, Louisiana now ranks higher in every national business-climate ranking than it ever did prior to 2008. Nowhere in Louisiana is our hard work on display more so than in New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
Since becoming our nation’s first district of autonomously run charter schools, New Orleans schools have improved student achievement measures from 35 percent proficient on literacy and math tests to 63 percent. The New Orleans graduation rate now tops the state average for all students and the national average for African-American students. New Orleans is the only school system in America where educators rather than school boards run the schools and parents choose from a marketplace of competing options. In short, New Orleans schools increasingly are providing a pipeline of well-educated workers that companies from every industry seek when they are looking to invest or expand.
An expanded digital media tax credit we created has helped New Orleans to cultivate a burgeoning collection of tech startups as the city has become one of America’s top new centers for entrepreneurship. This latest generation of businesses has buoyed the spirit of New Orleans and its economy, leading Forbes to name New Orleans the No. 1 brain magnet and Inc. magazine to call New Orleans America’s coolest startup city. Enhanced, targeted state incentives have helped numerous startups and high-growth young firms to lead the way, including Audiosocket, iSeatz, TurboSquid and many more.
New Orleans built its reputation on maritime commerce, and we’ve been proud to help continue that tradition. With state support, the Port of New Orleans recently has seen container volumes jump by 50 percent. The growth of the port helped enable Louisiana to be named the top export state in America by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2012. A $25 million state investment in new gantry cranes will enable the port to take advantage of significant new growth opportunities associated with the upcoming expansion of the Panama Canal.
For the first time in decades, the New Orleans area is attracting investments and jobs from leading companies around the world. For example, GE Capital decided to open a 300-job technology center in New Orleans, thanks in large part to an innovative higher-education partnership that we funded to expand computer science programs in the area. Our best-in-the-nation workforce program, LED FastStart, helped New Orleans to secure a 150-job game-development studio of one of the top mobile game developers in the world, Gameloft.
At the same time, we’ve helped existing New Orleans employers to expand. For example, Folgers consolidated operations from two other states, adding 120 jobs. Lockheed Martin is adding 166 new jobs at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. We’ve also attracted huge industrial projects to other metro-area parishes, such as Nucor in St. James Parish (up to 1,250 jobs and $3.4 billion in capital investment) and Dyno Nobel/Cornerstone Chemical in Jefferson Parish (more than 540 direct and indirect jobs and $1.0 billion in capital investment). More big announcements are on the way.
Meanwhile, a multibillion-dollar biomedical district is under construction, anchored by the new university research hospital funded by the state. Film production and digital media industries are growing exponentially.
In decades past, the continuous, slow decline of New Orleans was a leading contributor to the economic underperformance of our entire state. Today, New Orleans is one of Louisiana’s consistent growth drivers for both jobs and population. Bloomberg even designated New Orleans the No. 2 Boomtown in America.
Thanks to determined work over the past few years at both the state and local levels, New Orleans today outshines virtually every expectation from the bleak days after Hurricane Katrina. Twenty years from now, people may look back at this time as one of the most remarkable turnarounds of a major American city. As New Orleans approaches its tricentennial, we will continue working to make this great city a shining example of urban possibility.
The success we’ve enjoyed in New Orleans is indicative of the economic momentum we’ve experienced across Louisiana. Since January 2008, job growth in Louisiana ranks second-best in the South and seventh-best nationally. In just the last six months we’ve added more than 11,500 new jobs, and we are one of only 14 states with more jobs today than in January 2008.
Our state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown by $36 billion during my administration, representing growth that is nearly 50 percent faster than the national GDP and 25 percent faster than the South. Per capita income in our state has grown by more than $3,600 since we took office and it’s at its second-highest national ranking in more than 80 years. Louisiana also now ranks in the top 10 of three major national business climate rankings.
And, my favorite statistic – for the past five years in a row, more people are now moving into Louisiana than moving out – reversing a more than two decade trend of more people moving out of our state than moving in.
These are all tremendous accomplishments, but our work isn’t finished. As part of our commitment to making Louisiana the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family, we aren’t going to rest now. Instead, we are going to continue fostering an environment in New Orleans and across our entire state where businesses want to invest and create opportunities for our people.
For many people around the world, New Orleans defines their perception of Louisiana. Fortunately, this special city has begun a remarkably positive second act, and its future is very, very bright.
Bobby Jindal is governor of Louisiana. This piece originally ran at the Times-Picayune.