WASHINGTON —Hundreds of Louisiana politicians and business leaders came together Friday for the Washington Mardi Gras Economic Development Luncheon to tout the state’s gains and to further networking opportunities.

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret discussed the state’s business growth from the liquefied natural gas industry to digital media, while keynote speaker and New Orleans native Walter Isaacson, who recently wrote the “Steve Jobs: A Biography,” argued how Louisiana stands out because its people can combine business smarts with creativity, just like the co-founder of Apple Computer.

Southern Louisiana is in the middle of “renaissance” not seen since the turn of the 20th century, said Isaacson, who is now head of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies organization.

Smart people are a “dime a dozen” but smart people combined with creativity and imagination “make things happen” just as Jobs did, Isaacson said. Louisiana has that brand of creative class, he added.

“Give them a chance to reinvent something,” Isaacson said, citing as an example the changes young and energetic teachers helped make to create the charter school movement in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Just before the official luncheon began, the Washington Mardi Gras revelers took advantage of an open bar reception — a two-drink maximum per person — that opened at about 10 a.m. and served plenty of Bloody Marys and other cocktails. One attendee asked for water and was even mistakenly given a gin and tonic. Such is Washington Mardi Gras.

The festivities culminate Saturday with the Washington Mardi Gras Ball.

The luncheon participants included former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, state Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain and former CNN and NBC news host Campbell Brown. State lawmakers from Baton Rouge included Republicans Steve Carter, Franklin Foil and Erich Ponti. Also spotted were state Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, and state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, among others.

“We experienced smaller job losses than most states and we came out of the recession sooner than most states,” Moret said, arguing that Louisiana is only one of six states with more jobs now than prior to the recession.

“Our future is bright. In fact, I’ve never been more optimistic about the economic prospects of our state,” Moret said.

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who is chairing Washington Mardi Gras this year, called the event the “nexus of policy, politics and business.

He touted the Washington Mardi Gras theme, “La Bonne Terre,” which his wife, Laura, came up with and translates to “the good earth.” That refers to everything from the state’s agriculture to the fisheries and even the “oil and gas we mine from beneath” the earth.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., touted everything from the federal RESTORE Act that should send billions of dollars to Louisiana in the wake of the 2010 BP oil leak to the Cheniere Energy’s $5.6 billion liquefied natural gas Sabine Pass project in Cameron Parish that will be the first of its kind.

“Our state is looking great because of many things and one of them is the renaissance of natural gas,” Landrieu said.