Mar 26, 2010
Landrieu Gets Tips from Residents
By Michelle Krupa, Staff writer
From expanding the port and attracting foreign investors to improving job-training programs and assisting local entrepreneurs, professionals from across the economic spectrum stepped to the microphone Thursday to offer Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu suggestions about how to improve New Orleans' business climate.
With the somewhat amorphous goal of economic development among the three focal points of Landrieu's campaign -- on par with reducing crime and improving education -- the mayor-elect took copious notes as he listened to nearly 30 speakers gathered in an auditorium at the Port of New Orleans offices.
Sitting amid his hand-picked task force of economic advisers, Landrieu, who takes office May 3, offered no hint of how his strategy might evolve. But in closing the 90-minute session in his typical wonkish style, Landrieu left no doubt that he had hung on every word.
"I've been overwhelmed ... primarily with the insights, the willingness to share, the capacity to be tough on a problem and be soft on the people," he told the audience of more than 100 before launching into a point-by-point summary of the themes expressed by each speaker.
Several participants urged Landrieu to revive the so-called "public-private partnership" outgoing Mayor Ray Nagin killed last year.
The organization would mimic similar bodies in other major cities by turning over business recruitment and commercial planning to a professional staff jointly overseen and financed by business and government leaders.
Others touted efforts to expand New Orleans' reach across the globe. Andrew Wong, of the local grain startup Jazzmen Rice, advised Landrieu to bundle tax incentives. "That's what is being done all over Asia to compete for investment dollars," he said.
Kevin Pollard, who manages an international consulting firm, called on Landrieu to rebuild the city's Web site to include pages in English, Spanish, Mandarin and French, as well as to increase to 150 the number of honorary consuls based in New Orleans.
Mark Delesdernier, a former dock board chairman, said Landrieu should reach out to officials in Baton Rouge -- and in the 27 states that rely on the Port of New Orleans for shipping -- to secure financing for port improvements, especially in light of the expansion by 2014 of the Panama Canal.
In New Orleans neighborhoods, real estate broker GiGi Burk said City Hall could promote commercial development by fostering dialogue between residents and builders.
"The neighborhoods are scared of development, and they react," she said. "I think we need to be proactive, give them drawings, ask them what they want. They think big-box (stores are) terrible things. Big-box can be a beautiful thing if it's done right."
The Porch 7th Ward Cultural Organization's Larry Poirier and Kathleen Lunn of the Friends of Lafitte Corridor implored Landrieu to invest in small businesses that could serve their local communities, as well as draw tourist dollars outside the French Quarter.
Patricia Gay, of the Preservation Resource Center, advocated making preservation a city policy, noting that restoring and deconstructing old houses creates more jobs than new construction. She added that New Orleans should take cues from Baltimore and other cities that advertise the location of groceries and parks within walking distance of homes.
"We are sitting on a gold mine here in this city," she said. "We have never marketed the livability of our city."
Several speakers also pressed Landrieu to keep an eye toward the building trades and socially minded nonprofits.
Carol Balthazar, a small business owner who sits on New Orleans' chamber of commerce and the region's black chamber, warned Landrieu that "we are increasingly here in New Orleans becoming a tale of two cities."
"There are so many native, local, small -- call them disadvantaged -- businesses who are not tapping into opportunity and the rebuilding that is going on in New Orleans, who are left out," she said.
"Let's not forget those who truly need to become part of this rebuilding and the growth that is going on."
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Michelle Krupa can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3312.