New Orleans is gaining credibility in the tech and health sciences sectors, while clusters of new hotels and offices being built near the University Medical Center can transform the city into a medical hub in coming years, the head of a local economic development group said Monday.
Those types of opportunities in an urban setting are drawing top earners, young workers and employers away from Jefferson Parish, an economic developer there said.
Quentin Messer, the CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance, said recent gains will put New Orleans along the trajectory of cities such as Houston and allow it to leverage the new sectors to attract other businesses and residents.
“What we are seeing is the ability to take advantage of our additional strengths, whether they’re in energy, maritime, travel and hospitality, and web them,” he said.
Messer spoke Monday during the first half of a two-day symposium at Loyola University that featured forum discussions on forecasting the region’s economic and real estate trends.
In the Central Business District, 16 hotel projects are underway. “We’re experiencing a boom,” he said. “People just can’t get enough of coming to New Orleans.”
There are about 5,755 hotel rooms currently in the area, with another 2,330 rooms in various stages of development.
Business leaders in neighboring parishes also offered their assessments Monday.
Brenda Bertus, executive director of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, said that since 2008, the parish has wrapped up 113 projects, which generated more than $744 million in capital investment and led to more than 4,500 new jobs and 1,700 more that were retained.
So far, 10 projects have been completed in 2015, totaling about $35 million in new investment in the parish, she said.
Meanwhile in Jefferson Parish, business leaders have been working to stem a shifting of the parish’s top earners, who are moving elsewhere.
More residents, particularly young ones, have decided to move away because they prefer living in an urban setting, said Jerry Bologna, executive director of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission.
“They do not want what our parents’ generation wanted. They don’t want to go to the grocery store and get their groceries for the week,” he said. “They want to be able to walk there and just get what they want for dinner that night.”
That shift has left Jefferson suffering “a little bit of an identity crisis,” he said.
Bologna also blamed the parish’s housing stock, which he said “leaves a lot to be desired” and is “something that we have to address, and it’s one of the things that we’re working on.”
In its five-year development plan, JEDCO targets five industry clusters that business leaders believe will have the best odds for growth, including food and beverage; water transportation and distribution; health care; information technology systems and products; and industries involved in water, coastal and environmental issues.
“In terms of the millennials wanting to be in the city core,” he said, “that younger workforce, not only do they desire to be in the city core, but the employers desire to be there so they can attract that talent.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.