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Brand U.S.A.: New Orleans

Given its rich cultural history, can and should New Orleans embrace the technological demands of the New Economy and down play its Mardi Gras reputation?

For generations of sightseers, “Brand New Orleans” has meant the fiery-orange metallic sheen sparkling from a string of Mardi Gras beads at 3 a.m. Marketing the city’s brand personality is a crash course in Old World charm meets keg party madness. The city’s stay-awhile appeal and close-knit community welcomes visitors with the same traditional joviality that has made it an attractive escape for years. While tourism dollars and hype perpetually brand this city as a lively Southern town, the old neighborhoods behind the French Quarter’s polished charm paint a different picture of the city — one in need of education reform, a crack down on crime, industrial diversification, housing revitalization, and redevelopment. Given its rich cultural history, can and should this tourist town embrace the technological demands of the New Economy and down play its Mardi Gras reputation?

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[Jim Clinton] As a brand name, New Orleans still leans on its party-city, carnival, polycultural reputation. That’s what there is to market, and that’s what feeds the tourism. An area of great growth in the next 15 years will be New Orleans’ commitment to education and its commitment to diversifying its economy, and building on its existing scientific and technological developments. I would hope that it has a much more solid business brand identity in ten years.

[Harold Doley] If you look at New Orleans from a tourist’s perspective — if you visit the French Quarter, the riverfront, the convention center, Audubon Park, St. Charles Avenue, the streetcar route, the Garden District, and the lakefront area — this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But if you go to the old neighborhoods, New Orleans becomes a problem: The crime and the deteriorated housing stock is troubling. The city needs to revitalize the deteriorated housing, which is unattractive and unsafe, which increases the crime rate. The housing area is a major component of growth, with the greatest multiplier effect: When you build, renovate, or restore property, you put many people to work. One dollar could turn over three, four, five times, which is what is needed.

That said, the city needs to look at a serious program for housing revitalization. This is just not good business. It’s not good government. These decisions are decisions made for political expedience. New Orleans needs to move beyond tourism as one of the prime economic thrusts because tourism does not require the type of talent that is necessary to service modern industries. New Orleans has to diversify its economy and the skills of its labor force. New Orleans needs to exploit the oil and gas within Orleans Parish. In the days of Huey Long, there were prohibitions in the Louisiana constitution against drilling and producing oil wells in the Orleans Parish. Serving on the Louisiana State Mineral Board, I was made aware of geological structures that possessed tremendous oil and gas potential. One of the largest tracts is owned by the Orleans School Board. And it’s just laying fallow. The necessary laws in our constitution need to be changed to allow drilling to occur. Major oil-producing cities like Tulsa, Houston, Los Angeles have rotaries around oil wells. That’s something New Orleans can do. Because Louisiana is an oil and gas state, New Orleans has tremendous offshore resources. I’m the former Director of the Minerals Management Service of Interior that leases the outer continental shelf. And the largest royalty income for the U.S. government is right from the Gulf area. Oil prices have recovered significantly in the last year or year and a half, which makes a big difference to the economy.

[Tim Williamson] New Orleans is one of the most enchanting cities in the world. People here want to talk about the problems in New Orleans, but there’s something about the city that creates a very tight community and culture: We love the food, we love the music, and we love our neighbors. I find it intriguing that New Orleans is an extremely ‘local’ city, but tourists seem to love it nonetheless. They come here to be like a local, and New Orleans embraces them. We perceive our city as a party, ‘Come on in. Welcome to my city. Let’s go.’ But we’re not just about parties. New Orleanians are very conscious of outsiders coming in, trying to make a fast buck, and then abandoning the city

We’ve been burned too many times by these people. We’re passionate about New Orleans because we’ve been through the hard economic times. And we’ve been burned by outsiders, but if newcomers are committed to staying in New Orleans, the city will embrace them. When you come here, your walls come down. Walk through the French quarter and you view an enchanting world. It’s a very passionate community.

[Kimberly Williamson] Culturally, this is one of the most diverse communities I’ve ever seen. People of all different races, ages, and socioeconomic background co-exist here. I’ve seen a strong receptiveness to change, to asking those hard questions, and to moving forward. Change is difficult for many people, but I suspect that resistance to change won’t be an issue here.

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[Edward Massey] “New Orleans has been known for Mardi Gras, the French Quarter and the wonderful food and culture, and that’s great. But the area is also economically viable and it’s growing. New industries are coming into the area, things have stabilized, and young people now constitute a large portion of the homebuyers, and that’s encouraging.”

[Barbara MacPhee] One of the magical and wonderful things about New Orleans is its laid-back culture. It is rare to feel a sense of urgency here. While that sleepy pace has many delightful ramifications, it also has a downside. It’s been a long time since people thought it was important to be on time for classes or meetings or appointments. That attitude is not prevalent in the rest of the country now, but it’s always been a real tradition here. We’re a city relentlessly in pursuit of a good time. New Orleans also has been a very family-oriented city throughout its history. It’s not at all unusual for three and four generations to live within easy walking or driving distance of one another. So when it comes time to step away from the familiar, there’s some resistance and some reluctance in New Orleans.

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