Business leaders, educators, government officials, and technology experts are forging partnerships to advance their city and curb communication “turf wars” that have halted past development. Now, college professors are lugging their lesson books into the corporate trenches, techies are educating locals about e-commerce, and community alliances are cutting across divisions and advancing a shared vision that will help New Orleans get down to business.
Partnerships are necessary for success. The Southern Technology Council is a component of the Growth Policies Board and we’re working on a project called, “Seeing the Future,” which address the necessity of partnerships when mapping the new economy and preparing people to thrive in it. It’s amazing how most solutions are realized through partnerships. They turn out to be creative ways of pooling people, resources, organizations, institutions and governments together for the greater benefit with out creating a big bureaucracy in the process.
The Louisiana Partnership for Technology and Innovation has contributed to the community by encouraging conversations about growth, studying opportunities, and working to understand the impact of a strong research program on community businesses. We bring together resources from the academic sector, the political sector, and the private sector in an effort to reinvigorate and diversify the Louisiana economy. We focus on startups and early-stage opportunities that emerge from the private or academic sectors.
Universities are obviously important everywhere, but in a state like Louisiana, the research universities become crucial because we lack a strong private-sector research component. Therefore, Louisiana is forced to rely even more on the technology capacity built into local universities. Thankfully, several chief university executives are forward thinking. They’re not as inclined to slip into the silo syndrome, stifling development because they are only interested in what’s going on within their walls. The Louisiana Partnership for Technology and Innovation has always tried to build bridges between the academic community and the private sector. But now several universities are forging partnerships on their own, and more people than ever are inclined to push in a team-oriented direction.
On the education front, for example, Tulane and LSU medical schools are starting to cooperate by looking for opportunities to collaborate. They’ve spent the last 18 months or so putting together a major gene therapy initiative, which the state has spent upwards of $4 million to get off the ground. So Louisiana is breaking ground in a major 21st Century field that historically has not been associated with the state. Regions where institutions start to behave cooperatively have a chance to go somewhere. We usually tear ourselves down by refusing to join hands and figuring out how to take advantage of potentially joint capacities.
We’re not Austin, Texas and we’re not the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina. But we have started to put in a research development and technology park right across the street from the University of New Orleans campus. The Naval Information Technology Center is physically located in that technology park. We’re forming partnerships among individual businesses, the Navy themselves, the consultants to the Navy, and the university. We are also trying to develop a series of projects, such as internships that will allow students to work in a technology-related job and actually receive course credit.
We also are recruiting members of the business community to teach some of our courses. They give the students a practical, applied understanding of how things work in the real world. We develop relationships with individual businesses and have some of their professionals work with our faculty as well. We’re also encouraging faculty to interact with businesses in a consulting capacity that will be mutually beneficial to the university and the business. Along similar lines, we’re developing faculty internships. Instead of teaching a summer course, faculty members work for a local business to gain hands-on, practical understanding. Simply put, faculty members who have been out of school for awhile don’t have current business experience because they’ve been teaching. This internship is an example of a strong partnership that will help businesses, the students, and faculty members thrive in the new economy.
The New Orleans Downtown Development District actually invests a significant amount of money in the city police department in an effort to increase enforcement in the downtown area. And that partnership has resulted in a reduction of crime. Still, the perception is that downtown New Orleans isn’t safe. In reality, it is safer than anywhere else in the city. We need to send out that message and continue our joint commitment to ensure that it stays safe.
The city is also recruiting some high-end retailers, and those new arrivals will lure even higher-end retailers into the area. Canal Street is New Orleans’ main retail core and a central street in the downtown area. Right now, there’s a proliferation of gift and T-shirt shops on Canal Street. That’s not going to change overnight because many of those merchants are locked into long-term leases. But if New Orleans can come together with a shared vision for Canal Street, we’ll achieve a much more vibrant, lucrative downtown. We need to bring in the private sector as a partner in all of this so that we have true public-private partnerships. Those will allow us to leverage the resources, both human and financial, from the community.
Earlier this spring, I met with a group of individuals from the media and other organizations in order to assess whether there was value in discussing Internet and New Media-related issues in a public forum. I initiated that conversation because I felt that the success of the Internet in New Orleans was largely dependent upon the media’s approach. From those discussions, I determined there was an interest in forming a specific Internet-based organization that would include representatives from as many civic, professional, and media groups as possible. Shortly after solidifying the Internet Coalition, the New Orleans Technology Council requested that we become their official Internet committee.
One of the real purposes of the Internet Coalition is to allow universities, media, and businesses large and small to band together and improve New Orleans’ standing in the international Internet community. There are so many professions in the community that, to date, have not really been plugged into the Internet: advertising, PR, banking and financial services, small business, and the government. If the Internet Coalition can help bring these different communities together and educate them about the value and risks of the Internet and e-commerce, then it will enhance the community’s overall Internet knowledge. In the future, when people put together projects, they will be able to talk intelligently about technology and include industries such as advertising, banking, venture capital, and the government. The Coalition’s goal is to provide information and education to New Orleanians so they can feel more comfortable with and confident in Internet projects. Our goal is to provide not just an online community of Internet users, but an offline community that’s familiar with resources and willing to collaborate. They should be able to use the same language so that the community can be competitive.
Starting this fall, the Internet Coalition will begin a regular discussion series that will bring in guest speakers and panelists to discuss Internet-related issues ranging from e-commerce to promotion of Internet Web sites to funding Internet projects. We are also creating ‘Internet week,’ which will combine the efforts of many private and nonprofit community organizations, and media and educational institutions to demonstrate New Orleans’ Internet strengths.
The medical centers for Tulane and Louisiana State University are located near the business district in New Orleans, and they’re only a block away from each other. We have all come to realize that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and if we are going to move forward in this state, we need to do it together. By trying to compete in individual silos, we can’t make the same sorts of strides we could if we worked together. For example, the Tulane and LSU medical centers decided to spearhead an initiative that focuses on the importance of gene therapy and molecular medicine, which will allow diseases to be treated at the genetic level. Together, the two schools took this message to the state, presented it to the legislators and said, “Here’s a real opportunity for us as a state.”
Tulane and Xavier University formed a partnership about ten years ago that has grown in importance for both of those institutions. Xavier has the particular distinction of sending more African Americans to medical school than any other historically black college in the country. Tulane and Xavier recognized a lot of commonalties and forged some joint partnerships, one of which is a center for biological and environmental research. Because New Orleans’ major industries are oil, gas, and petrochemicals, we also feel we have an obligation to make sure that we are cognizant of the environment and conducting research in a responsible way.
Another Tulane and Xavier partnership, called the Urban Center, will make those universities more prominent players in our urban community. Because we are a part of the community, we need to support it beyond financial backing brought in by students’ tuition dollars. We need to actually forge alliances with the community. What started off as an urban initiative between Tulane and Xavier has now become an actual center that is starting to work with the New Orleans housing authority. The Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, DC, was not happy with the progress New Orleans was making with its housing authority — HANO. One of our faculty members stepped up to the plate and said, “I think we can make a difference.” The faculty member has since selected a couple of target projects and worked with the residents in public housing through entrepreneurship classes and tutoring programs. Teen pregnancy and the transmission of various diseases are major concerns as well, allowing collaboration with Tulane’s. School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, School of Social Work, and Center for Bio-environmental Research.
New Orleans is very targeted and systematic in its approach to attracting new businesses. The retention and expansion of existing business is very important. You’ve got to pay attention to existing business. Opportunities such as the Naval Information Technology Center come along very rarely, so we must take advantage of existing industries and try to grow them. We still have oil and gas here, and we must continue to look after and expand those industries.
New Orleans suffered at the hands of the mid-’80s’ oil bust. During the 1960s and ’70s, people insisted that New Orleans didn’t need to diversify because oil was gold. But after the oil bust, many workers lost their jobs and the economy suffered greatly. Today, New Orleanians better understand the need to diversify. To be competitive the city has to revitalize its infrastructure and work together. This community has taken awhile to implement some strategies because they’ve had it good for so long.
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