?There is something to be said for relationships in Louisiana. In the early years of my presidency at Xavier University, we had a vision for national expansion while remaining a major contributor in the New Orleans academic and civic communities. Our strategic approach included reaching out to build relationships with successful corporations to engage their collaboration and support. One of the early calls I made was to BP, and I was encouraged to find that it was eager to partner with us. That relationship began nearly 33 years ago and remains strong today!
During Xavier’s decadeslong partnership with BP, we have collaborated to aggressively boost and strengthen career workforce development in New Orleans and Louisiana. With BP’s support, Xavier established a pipeline of successful summer academic programs in science, math, biology and engineering for hundreds of eager middle and high school students. Over the years, these academic and mentorship efforts have earned Xavier national recognition through the subsequent achievements of those students in undergraduate, graduate and professional schools.
In 2010, following the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon incident, the Xavier community had many concerns. We mourned the loss of 11 men in the Gulf of Mexico and prayed for their families. There was great uncertainty about whether BP would stay in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast to finish the massive job that was ahead of it. We feared for so many of our Louisiana families whose lives depended on the seafood and tourism industries.
We were pleased to find that BP recognized its responsibility in its relationship with Louisiana. Five years later, this is what our communities know:
BP has stayed to finish its work. The company launched, from reliable reports, the largest cleanup and response effort in the history of North America. In coordination with the state and federal government, BP surveyed more than 3,000 miles of Louisiana coast alone. Professionals are still working on response efforts as the need arises. BP has compensated businesses and individuals affected by the spill to the tune of more than $13 billion thus far.
BP also continued its educational investment in Xavier and other Louisiana institutions, providing $6.5 million to schools, colleges and universities at a time when this support is so critical for our futures.
Visitors never stopped coming to New Orleans and Louisiana. In fact, they have come in record numbers for the last three years, spurred on by tens of millions of dollars in funds from BP dedicated to promoting our state and city. The positive results of this marketing effort helped our local tourism leaders develop new plans and funding to assure that these aggressive efforts are ongoing. It goes without saying that anything that improves the image of New Orleans has a positive impact on our student enrollment.
We have more restaurants in New Orleans now than before Hurricane Katrina, and our seafood productivity in Louisiana is consistent with reports prior to 2010.
Most importantly, Gulf seafood is some of the most rigorously tested seafood in the world. These testing procedures have also allowed scientists to not only assure safety but also to better define the health benefits for us all.
If we have learned one thing as a community in the last decade, it is that New Orleanians and Louisianans are resilient and passionate about their way of life. We stay committed to the people, organizations, businesses and institutions that stay committed to us.
There is something to be said for relationships in Louisiana. BP committed to Xavier’s vision of what we could be 33 years ago. Xavier chose to commit to our partner BP when it needed us the most. BP has proved worthy of that trust, and we are grateful.
Norman Francis is president of Xavier University.