Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. No one can deny that. What happened afterwards, though, is a bit muddled in the country’s collective consciousness. To some, the city seems like it’s still devastated, struggling in vain to recover from a crushing disaster. Others still think of it as the city of Mardi Gras, a place to party. The NOLABound program wants to highlight a different reality: a city which has risen up in the face of Katrina’s aftermath to create a thriving entrepreneurial culture that can bring the city’s economy back to life.
NOLAbound, a week-long event that is bringing 25 "social media influencers" from across the country to experience New Orleans’ entrepreneurial culture, is the product of Greater New Orleans, Inc. (a regional economic development alliance), the nonprofit Idea Village, and the New Orleans downtown development district. "Development has been hindered by the perception that New Orleans isn’t a good place to do business. We thought, what can we do to promote what’s happening in New Orleans? The economic momentum we’ve had over the past four or five years has been a complete turnaround," says Curry Smith, NOLABound’s official spokesperson.
The program will highlight four industries: the arts, bioscience, digital media, and sustainability. These are, according to Smith, the industries that have seen the greatest growth post-Katrina. Some, like arts and bioscience, existed before the disaster. But digital media and sustainability are fairly new. The sustainability industry in particular grew as a response to Katrina.
"It’s clear because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federal levees that NOLA is in a uniquely precarious situation," explains Beth Galante, the New Orleans director of Global Green. "Climate change, coastal wetland loss, and a city that was not very progressive when it came to sustainability—these all added up to their being a clear need for collaboration and assistance in trying to make sure that sustainability was a key piece in NOLA’s recovery."
Global Green, a nonprofit focused on green building, has played a big part in making sure that New Orleans recovers with an eye towards the future. One of Galante’s favorite initiatives is Green Schools New Orleans, a project that is committing to make all new schools (and renovated schools) in the city LEED Silver. She also cites NOLA Wise, a program that helps city residents make their homes more energy efficient, as a program that is boosting both the sustainable and economic development of the city.
Says Galante: "I think [a focus on sustainability] would eventually have happened but I think we’re all very aware that it took an outstanding crisis to wake us up to the urgency of the threat. It’s just in the last few years that we’ve become aware of the economic opportunity."
During their stay in New Orleans, NOLAbound participants will do site visits with companies, meet with entrepreneurs, and chat with community leaders, all as part of an attempt to highlight how far the city has come since Katrina. Ideally, the organizers would like to make this an annual event. And they might even get a few New Orleans converts. Jen Dubin, one of the project participants, is thinking about moving to the city in a couple years. "I’m really hoping to alter some misconceptions about New Orleans," she explains. "People still say things to you like, 'Oh, I didn’t think anything was left there.'"
NOLABound runs from March 14th to 18th.