I have written many times about the consequences of the failure of New Orleans and, for that matter Louisiana, to diversify our economy and the danger resulting from dependency on an industry, tourism, that is highly susceptible to external forces. Now, unless we are very lucky, we may pay a steep price for such folly.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell. If Coronavirus escapes its confines and becomes widespread in the United States a combination of fear and government action will shut down travel and tourism. The duration of that shutdown is indeterminate, but the impact on a tourism reliant city such as ours may well be equivalent of the impact of the oil crisis in the 1980’s. The outcome of that 20th century event was a near 10-year local recession and the collapse of a myriad of businesses. The long-term result, largely attributable to leadership that either had no idea what to do or worse, didn’t care, was that we lost almost the entire economic base of the city. This was followed up by years of slow decline until today New Orleans does not have even one major bank headquartered here.
If we are lucky, Corona will be a short-term event that will not have a major impact. But if we are not lucky, we will see our city and state plunged into a long-term cycle of lost jobs and bankruptcies from which we may never recover.
Even if we do escape the economic devastation of the effects of the virus, we still face the danger of a national downturn in which businesses’ first reaction will be to cut spending on travel. Our city leaders are rightfully concerned about the dangers of Mardi Gras floats, but I suggest that there is a far greater danger lurking just offstage. For a region and a state to be so incredibly dependent upon one industry, an industry that could shut down at an instant, is a far greater danger to our people than Mardi Gras floats. It is way past time that we started to focus our energy and resources on creating a strong and resilient economy in our city and our state.
I have nothing against tourism, it creates large number of low paid jobs for the un- or under-educated masses, something our weak economy has left us with. But the folly is in thinking that we can create long-term, stable prosperity from a tourism centric economy with little or no economic diversity.
If the city and state leaders would focus as much attention on building the economy as they do on entertaining the masses, then we too could be a city where people come to play AND to work too!