I have lamented many times about the economic powerhouse that New Orleans once was, but that has sadly long since faded. The result of speaking out has been an expected bombardment by the status quo folks, those that love to proclaim the value of our culture as if that culture alone was somehow worth the pain of poverty, ignorance, and a myriad of social ills. Well my answer is simple; we can have a desirable culture AND a viable economy, they are not mutually exclusive.
So I have been thinking about what we could do to emulate some of the more recently successful cities in an effort to transition into a region that can have it both ways.
My first comparable is Las Vegas. A city that really came into being less than a hundred years ago and a city who mere existence was based initially almost entirely on tourism. In their case tourism took the form of gambling and their proximity to California allowed that industry to explode. Well we are now a city almost entirely driven by tourism, ours being based upon history and culture. So what do I see in this comparable?
The answer is simply that over the last few decades Las Vegas realized that tourism was fine but limited in its ability to create prosperity for the people. Las Vegas, using the base that came from its gambling tourism, has transformed itself again; this time into a corporate Mecca. Today Las Vegas has become a region where corporate business is just as valuable an asset as tourism and is growing even faster than gambling based tourism. So there is a case we could look at. We could use our tourism economy to transform New Orleans into a region highly attractive to corporate business.
There are several other cases that are worthy of comparison. One is the case in which a major public investment can become an economic draw and create a world winning economy by itself. In the 1970’s Atlanta was a moderate sized city, one that New Orleans competed with in business attraction. The state of Georgia itself was mostly agrarian and offered little in the way of attraction. But someone had a vision and they converted a dirt racetrack into a massive airport that became the transfer hub for the entire southern United States.
That one project gave Atlanta the opening it needed and the leaders of that region jumped on it and built an economy that today dwarfs that of New Orleans region. So another case would be to define a future need and build a facility that would serve as the economic engine to drive our economy.
One last case of note is based upon the knowledge industry. Many decades ago North Carolina realized that education and research would drive an economy. So a state that was very poor and also agrarian invested its resources into what has become the Research Triangle of universities. No surprise, the whole state has prospered as corporations flocked in to take advantage of the educated workforce and the research available from academia.
Interestingly several years ago I conceived of a concept to do just this in New Orleans. It would have combined UNO, SUNO, and Delgado into a new model university for our region, one that could have been a great jump-start for the economy. Sadly the politics of the status quo caused this idea to fail in the legislature. But despite that failure our region could still create a super power in education that could serve as a basis for an economic Renaissance.
These are three proven techniques, proven by their success. There are many other paths to success but we must be cognizant of the fact that all of these are long term in nature. We must understand that if we don’t get started we will never get to where we should be.
One other big point is there is nothing that prevents us from capitalizing on more than one or all of these at the same time. The problem we face today is that we are stuck with our feet in concrete and all we are doing is taking incremental steps at economic prosperity. The result is ever growing poverty, crime, government dependency, and all the other bad things. Great success only comes from bold effort. Hoping that somehow things will change if we just keep doing the same things is pure folly.
By the way, everything that I am saying here applies equally at the state level. We are occasionally getting notified by the Administration of new business projects but they employ very few people, probably far less than the businesses that are closing or relocating out of state. Our state needs a kick start in a big way.
All of this is called vision. Leadership can follow two paths; it can just play it safe by maintaining the status quo or it can develop a vision, sell it to the citizens, and then do it. We all know what playing it safe by protecting the status quo has gotten us, dead last in everything.
So for the prosperity of our people we need a vision, perhaps more we need a leader who can demonstrate a grasp of the significance of having a vision and have the capability of transforming that vision from an idea into reality.