Preserving the Past in New Orleans Is Key to Creating a Brighter Economic Future

Posted August 30, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
New Orleans is home to an innovative and inclusive economic development effort

When the New Orleans Busi­ness Alliance (NOLA­BA) launched its com­pre­hen­sive eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment plan, the pub­lic-pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tive had a clear goal in mind: pre­serve the city’s rich his­to­ry and, in doing so, ensure all res­i­dents have the oppor­tu­ni­ties and sup­port need­ed to achieve finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty and thrive.

That’s a tall order in a city that’s seen incomes decline, hous­ing costs rise and the racial wealth gap widen. African Amer­i­cans, who con­sti­tute 60% of New Orleans’s pop­u­la­tion, are three times more like­ly than their white coun­ter­parts to live in poverty.

Despite the immense progress New Orleans has made since Kat­ri­na, too many res­i­dents, par­tic­u­lar­ly peo­ple of col­or and women, have not been full par­tic­i­pants in our city’s eco­nom­ic upward tra­jec­to­ry,” says Quentin L. Mess­er Jr., NOLABA’s pres­i­dent and CEO. We’ve got to make sure we get all our play­ers on the field. If we don’t, all of us in New Orleans will be less game ready and less pros­per­ous, and our city will become less eco­nom­i­cal­ly vibrant.”

NOLABA’s plan is focused on four key strate­gies that it believes can address these dis­par­i­ties and enable all New Orlea­ni­ans to engage with, and ben­e­fit from, the city’s economy:

  • Busi­ness attrac­tion and reten­tion. Incen­tiviz­ing for­mer res­i­dents to bring their skills and busi­ness­es back to New Orleans.
  • Small busi­ness growth. Help­ing entre­pre­neurs — espe­cial­ly women and peo­ple of col­or — estab­lish, grow and expand their companies.
  • Strate­gic neigh­bor­hood devel­op­ment. Pre­serv­ing cul­tur­al tra­di­tions and strength­en­ing com­mer­cial cor­ri­dors through­out the city.
  • Tal­ent and work­force devel­op­ment. Cul­ti­vat­ing strong rela­tion­ships with employ­ers and com­mu­ni­ty-based groups to con­nect res­i­dents with qual­i­ty, fam­i­ly-sus­tain­ing job opportunities.

Even though the hill before us is great, we believe whole­heart­ed­ly in this mis­sion,” says Ash­leigh Gardere, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief oper­at­ing offi­cer at NOLA­BA. And we’re already see­ing great progress.”

Since launch­ing the plan in Jan­u­ary 2018, NOLA­BA has rolled out a suite of tools for small busi­ness own­ers, includ­ing an insight plan­ner with indus­try trends and infor­ma­tion on com­peti­tors, an online resource hub with dozens of ven­dors and ser­vice providers and a pro­cure­ment por­tal that offers infor­ma­tion on open con­tract and bid­ding oppor­tu­ni­ties. The col­lab­o­ra­tive has also host­ed pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment train­ings with 300 job seek­ers — 85% of whom are now employed — and raised $5 mil­lion for the Build­NO­LA Mobi­liza­tion Fund, which aims to increase con­tract access for female busi­ness own­ers and busi­ness own­ers of color.

In addi­tion to her role with NOLA­BA, Gardere rep­re­sents New Orleans in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s South­ern Cities for Eco­nom­ic Inclu­sion ini­tia­tive. She and the oth­er 34 cohort mem­bers — who hail from Asheville and Char­lotte, North Car­oli­na; Atlanta; Mem­phis and Nashville, Ten­nessee; New Orleans; and Rich­mond, Vir­ginia — meet through­out the year to share what they’re learn­ing about the best ways to expand job oppor­tu­ni­ties, increase wealth and boost wages for peo­ple of col­or. Gardere cred­its the progress NOLA­BA is mak­ing to the insights she’s gleaned from these gatherings.

Accord­ing to her, the trans­for­ma­tive work in New Orleans has only just begun.”


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