What Should New Orleans Be When It Grows Up?

Sometimes, what you’re looking for is right under your nose. Given that it is spring and following on from a successful New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week, with high school and college students recently graduating and contemplating what might be next, some similar introspection may be needed for our city as a whole.

In recent years,  economic development, amid a housing and climate crisis, has been a bright spot in the Crescent City. This is despite the fact that there has been little to no coordinated effort to strategically guide the New Orleans economy for the near to long term. As a result, the local economy, has been dominated by oil and gas, as well as the tourism industry for decades. That being said, this is due to our vibrant local culture and deep resource deposits, not a coordinated or strategic effort.

In more recent years, the city has become a research technology hub of sorts. With the founding and more recent sale of the tech firm Lucid, leading to offshoots such as Rep Data and Research Defender. While this phenomenon is something the city should look to capitalize on, it doesn’t seem as though much effort has been placed by ecosystem actors to ensure that research tech booms in New Orleans. 

The truth is, we actually don’t need to look far to see how ecosystem clustering or coordination could be done well. Despite this not being their more tech-related focus, cities such as Memphis and Nashville have made themselves hubs for transportation and logistics and healthcare respectively, ensuring more sustainable growth for their economies.  While other cities have made themselves more “sector agnostic” tech hubs, New Orleans may not have the necessary resources to pursue this path and may need to specialize, at least in the short term. 

Despite the number of reasonably sized exits and an influx of federal capital in the recent past,  the local tech ecosystem may still take time to mature and grow. That being said, the answer for what New Orleans might want to be when it grows up, could be more straightforward than one might think. 

It goes without being said, that no city does culture quite like the Crescent City. Further, fewer industries are more populated by black and brown folks than the tourism and hospitality space. What this means is that there are more marginalized folks who know the core issues and pain points that those industries face. They are thereby uniquely positioned to create ventures to solve them, provided they are provided the capital and infrastructure to be able do so.

That being said, there is no reason for the best hospitality management program in the country to be in upstate New York. With roughly eight major public and private universities in the city, one of these institutions could certainly house an elite school of hospitality management that could also help spin out start-ups in the space. Following on from that, accelerators and incubators could provide the support needed to help take these ventures to the next level. 

We are already seeing what is possible in all of this on the music side. New Orleans has always been at the forefront of innovation on the business end in the music industry. From the founding of jazz, to Cash Money , No Limit Records and Jet Life Recordings establishing new rules of engagement in hip-hop, the city has always been at the vanguard. That legacy is now being built upon by start-up Jamm Around, which looks to enhance collaboration in the space. 

More recently, beyond music, local leisure wear brands have been established and scaling, further proving the capacity of our local entrepreneurial talent. Much the same has occurred in the food industry, with local restauranteurs exceeding expectations and building viable businesses without much, established ecosystem support. These scrappy entrepreneurs have, much like the record labels before them, done the impossible, but should not have had to. A support ecosystem should have existed to enable them.

In the midst of billion dollar exits, there is a moral imperative to support the little guy. While hundreds of millions of dollars are being made and hopefully reinvested in the city, we need to make sure that pop ups, small and local businesses can thrive as well. Small businesses are the life blood of our economy and ecosystem and deserve to be treated as such. 

It goes without saying that there are other directions the city could head in outside of investing in culture and culture tech. From web3 to sustainability, a number of industries could lead the city on the path to sustainable growth. That being said, none might have the same near term, direct, or pronounced impact on communities of color. In building our ecosystem, investing in our own in this way, might be the right place to start. 


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