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Jerry DiColo, right center, metro editor of the The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate, asks questions to panelists taking part in the Economic Outlook Summit 2020 on Thursday, January 9, 2020. Business leaders from across New Orleans took part in the program.

Perhaps it’s not the most dramatic statistic to emerge from metro of leaders at this newspaper’s economic outlook panel, this one is still rather striking.

In many of New Orleans’ peer cities in tourism and entertainment, from Boston to San Francisco, as much as a third of visitor revenue comes from business travel; in our city, it's 8%.

While there may be multiple reasons for that, the statistic from Walt Leger III of New Orleans & Co. stood out to us: A dynamic economy is a magnet for business travel, day in and day out, not just for conferences and conventions that may be business-related.

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And that was only one of several indicators cited at the 2020 Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate Economic Summit that showed the city and metro area have room to grow in the coming year, and in years beyond.

"We have always been seen as a kind of pass-through gateway, missing out on some manufacturing and distribution opportunities," said Brandy Christian, CEO of the Port of New Orleans and the Public Belt Railroad.

But "the investments we’ve made over time have made us very well poised for this new 'Amazon World' in logistics," she said. "Southeast Louisiana is now seriously considered for major distribution e-fulfillment centers — we are finally on that radar."

A new distribution center for medical devices in Covington, as well as rising container traffic at the Port, are part of the positive trends identified by panelists.

Anne Teague Landis, CEO of Landis Construction, pointed out that the $1 billion Tulane University plans to spend on construction over the next five years — including its major role as a tenant in the new Charity Hospital rehabilitation and other downtown campus projects totaling 500,000 square feet — is among the "market anchoring" projects that will ensure job growth for her sector.

Tulane President Michael Fitts pointed out that there are some 40,000 students and academic staff from Tulane and other major universities in the city, which is about 10% of the entire Orleans Parish population.

Fitts said the university is committed to expanding its investments in research. That’s good news not only for combating local — and global — problems like coastal erosion, but in fueling innovations across a wide range of fields.

The future of all sorts of work is bound up with technology. A city rich with university-taught talent, and with leaders focused on the future and not mired in the past, is one way to move New Orleans’ future in a positive direction.

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