Before Katrina, New Orleans was known more for the free-wheeling atmosphere of its streets than the free-thinking of its business leaders. The economy was largely controlled by manufacturers and the oil and gas industries, with a business culture that valued seniority and lineage over raw talent. In stark contrast to that commercial stodginess was the city’s intrinsic creative energy — something any visitor can feel the moment they set foot there.
It took the tragedy of the hurricane, which killed hundreds, and caused billions in damage, to loosen the grip of the old way of doing business. Now, entrepreneurs, including clean technology companies, are sprouting up like mushrooms after the rain, supported by a new host of organizations designed to reinvent the way business is done in New Orleans, and in the process help the Big Easy become a world class city again.
A New Way of Doing Things
Greater New Orleans, Inc., and Idea Village, both non-profit economic development agencies, have been leading the way, partnering with local developers, to refurbish buildings and attract and support talented people with ideas looking for space to ferment and grow. The agencies helped found I.P., an acronym for Intellectual Property, a building in the heart of the city that has been refurbished to cater to start-ups, Silicon Valley style. The building has a gym, saunas, cafe and “brainstorm rooms.” And now, nine tenants.
Sean Cummings, an entrepreneur who returned to the city after the hurricane, founded Entrepreneur’s Row, where start-ups can get a desk, high speed wireless internet, a kitchen and a private phone line.
Another development, supported by Cummings, in a building called the Icehouse, already has attracted tenants like Free Flow Power, a Massachusetts company that designs hydroelectric power plants that are more ecologically sound than dams. The company, which has a project on the Mississippi River, was lured to the city by an offer of free rent from I.P., and immediate access to business and government resources.
From Tragedy, Opportunity for Growth
New Orleans has some favorable winds behind it. Ironically, because of the damage done by Katrina, there is a huge economic vacuum in the city to be filled. Since 2005, the city has gained a net 100,000 jobs. Also, because of the disaster, government infrastructure investment is elevated, at around $10 billion a year, as opposed to around $1.5 billion in a typical year before the disaster.
The number of jobs in the city is projected to grow 24% by 2016, to approximately 98% of pre-Katrina levels.
Also benefiting a renewed business culture is a low cost of living and a high quality of life. Seema Sudan, the owner of a knitwear company called LiaMolly, rents a 1,900 square foot studio for $800 a month, and a three bedroom apartment with yard for $1,800. The studio is in the Garden District, which is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city and the country.
Organizations Offering Entrepreneurial Support (courtesy Entrepreneur magazine):
A nonprofit promoting innovation and entrepreneurship
Greater New Orleans Inc.
A public/private partnership formed to spearhead economic development
Startup New Orleans
A guide to local business development and cultural entrepreneurs
Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals
A network to connect, retain and attract young professionals
A business networking group for young professionals
Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans
Resources for entrepreneurs addressing social problems
Make New Orleans Home
An online resource for living and working in the region