It was hardly noticed around here, but recent announcements by Facebook and Google offer Louisiana a significant pathway to begin rebuilding our economy.
The two tech giants have told employees they will not have to return to the office until next summer. Part of the reason was to allow their workers to leave behind the taxes and traffic of California and sign one-year leases to live wherever they please.
This kind of thinking could change the way economic development works in a lasting way. Instead of winning over companies with giveaway packages, states and cities will be luring workers, one at a time.
This could be game-changing good news for Louisiana, since New Orleans looms large in the national imagination as a magnet for creative people, from Tennessee Williams to Emeril Lagasse and beyond. Baton Rouge and Lafayette also have distinctive assets, particularly the latter's Acadian cultural scene.
States like Alabama or Mississippi or Georgia do not have anything comparable to offer.
Crises can catalyze change, as we learned when New Orleans redesigned its school system after Hurricane Katrina.
A long-term implication of the COVID-19 crisis could be that it will make formerly deskbound workers into free agents, able to go wherever they want.
Some will make their choices based on taxes, and for those who do, Louisiana is a low-tax state. Our problem is a business tax structure at a disadvantage to Texas and Florida, although far better off than California or New York.
But many, especially the young, will just want to find a great place to live.
GNO Inc., the New Orleans economic development agency, recognized this before the coronavirus crisis, and revised its mission statement to emphasize that it seeks to build not just a thriving economy, but “an excellent quality of life, for everyone.” Developing talent for national as well as home-grown businesses has been a primary goal of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber's pre-virus five-year plan.
But if we want to convince the employees of Facebook or Google that this is a great place, we have some work to do.
Great places to live don’t have boil-water advisories, because they failed to invest in infrastructure, thanks to a byzantine tax structure that distributes money to an archipelago of agencies, some rich and others poor.
Great places to live are governed locally, not hemmed in by state legislators and governors who live hundreds of miles away, still fantasizing about being Huey P. Long.
Great places to live are welcoming, and they are not afraid to affirm their inclusiveness, as Baton Rouge has been. BRAC's leadership on this issue shows that the business community understands both the moral and economic advantages of inclusion.
Great places to live have great colleges, and they don’t lard up their higher education system with five different governing boards.
We think Louisiana is a great place to live. But if we want to convince others and win the Twenties, we need to fearlessly embrace change, like we did in 2005.