Hurricane Katrina taught us many lessons. For those of us in economic development — charged with growing jobs and community wealth — one of the most important teachings was that neither water nor workers are held back by political boundaries.
The flooding and damage from Hurricane Katrina impacted all 10 parishes in Greater New Orleans and beyond. Water that flooded one parish quickly flowed into neighboring areas. With a geography based on basins rather than borders, we quickly learned we were only as strong as our neighbor.
As the waters receded and our recovery began, we found our workforce more diffuse and mobile than ever before. The north shore became the fastest-growing part of the state, adding over 75,000 residents. Commuting intensified, with interparish trips to work increasing 11 percent.
And Greater New Orleans — which had existed before more as concept than reality — came into its own.
Working together, the 10 parishes of Greater New Orleans have experienced success not seen for decades. Our region has more economic development wins than anyone else in the South over the past 10 years. We have been named “Most Improved in the USA” by The Wall Street Journal, and we lead the country in attracting young people with college degrees.
Of course, this collective success is the sum and amplification of all of the wins happening at the parish level. For example: Jefferson was chosen by Smoothie King for its international headquarters. GE Capital picked Orleans for its first I.T. “Center of Excellence.” Plaquemines is seeing a plethora of projects from global companies like Parallax Energy. St. Bernard has become a home for blockbuster films with The Ranch Studios. St. Charles has seen massive expansion with projects like India’s AM Agrigen. St. James welcomed the first-ever Chinese investment in Louisiana, Yuhuang Chemical. St. Tammany blossomed as a center for headquarters, such as Chevron. Tangipahoa kept historic Elmer Candy producing in Ponchatoula. And Washington welcomed a 900-job General Dynamics facility.
But perhaps the most exciting regional development over the past decade has been cooperation. Greater New Orleans has moved from being the literal definition of parochialism to now being a model of collaboration. When changes to national flood insurance threatened to make living in southern Louisiana (and much of America) impossible, a group of 14 parish presidents, from our region and beyond, got together to form the Coalition for Sustainable Flood Insurance. When our group went to Washington, D.C., we were met with amazement and appreciation: D.C. had never seen this level of cooperation and unanimity from Louisiana. The result? CSFI went on to lead a national coalition of over 250 organizations from 35 states, and Congress passed bipartisan legislation to fix flood insurance.
Greater New Orleans has been named No. 1 in the USA for combined employment, income and population growth. Why? The region is the reason. Thank you to all of our regional partners for a decade of collaboration, dedication and results.
Michael Hecht is president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc.