New Orleans received a much-needed bit of positive economic news last week as the General Electric finance division announced that it would be opening an information technology office here, bringing an estimated 300 jobs in this city. GE also claimed that the office would lead to 301 “‘indirect jobs'” around New Orleans (which is a bit more dubious because it seems to assume that every new employee will create at least one additional job, as if each will hire their own personal assistant).
In any event, this news was especially good because it fit the narrative announced by Reuters news service last December – that New Orleans is becoming a “Silicon Valley on the Bayou.”
New Orleans and the State of Louisiana have been making a particular effort to court new IT jobs, which are broadly considered a lynchpin of the ‘new’ economy. The state boasts a 35% tax credit for digital media industries, and New Orleans has already begun to generate its own stable of IT enterprises.
GE Senior VP and General Counsel Brackett Deniston (weird name, by the way) provided an additional boost to New Orleans’ image by stating that he had heard “that people were thrilled to do business here.” Though wholly accurate, this statement was contrary to the entrenched view that New Orleans is more likely to pick your pocket than do business with you.
The growth of the IT field in New Orleans is certainly becoming a success story, and state and local government merit some credit for this. The idea that New Orleans could ever be mentioned in the same sentence with Silicon Valley was a foreign notion just five years ago. Now it’s on the wire services.
As a white-collar guy myself, I completely approve of the drive to garner and generate more high-paying office jobs for New Orleans. On the other hand, I also value greatly blue-collar work and service industry jobs which, for better or for worse, are the true lynchpin of our economy. I’m speaking of jobs where a person who buckles down and works hard can earn a decent income, regardless of whether they have a fancy degree or title.
This, sadly, brings me to my next tidbit of economic news – the impending closure of New Orleans’ mail processing center, which was announced just this past Thursday. Approximately 880 workers will be laid off or relocated as a part of the closure.
Now, I certainly crap on the U.S. Postal Service from time to time. In these metaphorical dumps on this venerated institution, I’ve used words like “‘inefficient,” incompetent, “incontinent” (at least, again, in a metaphorical sense), and, perhaps most importantly, “intransigent.” More than most other government institutions, the Post Office has been slow to modernize and streamline. It isn’t all their fault, mind you. As said Lawrence Garfield, the protagonist in the film “Other Peoples’ Money,” the surest way to go broke is to capture “an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes, slow but sure…”
Slowly but surely, the Post Office is going down the tubes. Electronic mail, preceded by facsimile (fax) transmissions, is gradually overtaking paper mail as the favored form of written communication. The post office has a monopoly on First Class Mail, a market shrinking faster than David Vitter’s credibility on family values.
Still, the closure of the New Orleans mail distribution facility is regrettable and, perhaps, unnecessary. Surely, there are hard-working employees there who don’t simply sit around and collect a paycheck. Even in the most inefficient organizations, there are those individuals (typically referred to as “suckers” by the lazy drones) who actually accomplish the tasks assigned to them. These are the unfortunate victims of institutional stupidity. A forced relocation to Baton Rouge or Lafayette (the sixth and seventh levels of Hell, respectively) just doesn’t seem an appropriate reward for years of dutiful service.
Thankfully, our local and national political officials have lobbied aggressively against the closure. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a politician who I have not been a supporter of, has been particularly active and eloquent.
Nevertheless, while I understand the importance of these large-scale battles over hundreds of jobs, I lament the lack of attention given to the small victories in the small business community. As I write this column, in fact, I am sitting in the St. Charles location of Sante Fe Tapas, which opened last year in the erstwhile “La Madeline” that closed following Hurricane Katrina. This is an example of a local enterprise that has expanded recently, creating good-paying jobs for locals.
While nabbing GE is a PR coup for the State am the Landrieu administration, we should neither forget nor ignore the failures and triumphs that accompany it. All jobs are valuable, even if they don’t play as well in press releases.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.