Developers and business owners are flocking to New Orleans, thanks to factors that can be traced back to Hurricane Katrina, an event that shook the old ways of doing business in the city and created opportunities for experimentation...
New Orleans is counting on attracting venture capitalists and start-up firms from inside and outside the United States that are looking for cut-rate overhead costs and a city with economic momentum.
Nearly 450 of every 100,000 adults in the city started a business after Katrina, a rate 40 percent higher than the national average, according to a 2010 Brookings Institution report.
But because regional competitors like Atlanta, Miami and Austin, Texas, are years ahead of the curve, Ragas said, "it's not realistic to think New Orleans is going to bag Fortune 500 companies," but will instead be forced to start small.
"We have to go after growth firms that see the locational advantage of being in New Orleans," Ragas said. "We are a relatively inexpensive city."
Topping the list in the city's future footprint: a $1 billion, 1,500-acre university medical center and veterans affairs medical complex, expected to create more than 20,000 jobs over the next 10 years. The BioInnovation Center opened in June, housing five biotech start-ups and two venture capital firms and is designed to link university research to the commercial sector.
Budding start-ups, ranging from French video game developer Gameloft to movie effects company Bayou FX, set up shop in New Orleans this year, crediting state and city incentives that cover payroll expenditures, moving costs and facility upgrades.
On the negative side, what worked so well for New Orleans for decades -- its image as America's bacchanal capital -- could be its greatest liability.
"New Orleans is one of the most beloved cities in America; however, people think of it as a place to visit and don't think of it as a place to relocate their family," said Michael Hecht, president of Greater New Orleans, Inc., a regional economic development agency.
"We are transitioning to the point where our most significant battle is for hearts and minds because we're winning on making the case for business."
Developer Reuben Teague, whose company Green Coast Enterprises is planning the Lower Ninth Ward complex featuring the supermarket, said he and his partners were enticed by state and federal money being allocated this year by the city to help the beleaguered neighborhood return to life.
That, he said, is evidence the city is finally getting serious about helping a neighborhood marginalized for years.
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