Jan 232014
 

Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

While several of the candidates for mayor are talking what we think is the truth about the economic inequities that still divide New Orleans, it’s a fact that the New Orleans economy is in better shape today than it has been in years and that New Orleans has sprung back quicker after Katrina than many cities have since the financial markets’ collapse. But that does not mean our economic picture is rosy across the board.

The maritime industry is on an upswing under the capable leadership of Gary LaGrange. The tourism industry under Greg Rusovich, Mark Romig, Mavis Early, Bob Johnson and others is working hard to compete with glitzier marketing budgets and state-of-the-art convention centers across the country. Too many of our tourism industry jobs are low-paying and the opportunities for advancement – especially by undereducated and unskilled African-Americans workers stuck in minimum wage jobs – are minimal.

What we really need is a major expansion in the technology, science and information sectors that is propelling cities like Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and New York forward. We’re not saying that these industries are not growing in New Orleans but we need to push technology until New Orleans is celebrated as a “digital city” and tech surpasses tourism and/or the port as our leading industry. What we really like about the new tech jobs is that young minorities — African-Americans and Latinos — can be routed to these careers while still in high school and help build our middle class, and at the same time prepare our workers for science-related jobs.

In New York City, the number of African-Americans working in computer and mathematics (which the Census Bureau labels as tech jobs) has grown almost 20 percent. Latinos has shown a tech job gain of 25.4 percent. Nationally, 40 percent more Latino students are earning computer and information sciences degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Let’s not forget that more than half of New Orleans current population is non-white. Helping connect these minorities with good paying jobs will also reduce crime.

While the number of people employed in restaurants, hotels and attractions in New Orleans continues to grow — thanks in part to folk like attractions czar Ron Forman and all the new restaurateurs — without constantly attracting more large conventions and an ever-increasing number of leisure visitors which generate demand for hotels and restaurants, real pay may well have fallen and brings the overall industry down.

GNO Inc. has done a good job of pushing New Orleans along the information and technology highway with tech incubators and other infrastructure improvements. That effort needs to be redoubled with hopefully additional support from Baton Rouge when a new governor is elected. But we as a city and whoever wins our mayor’s race in particular still need to focus on narrowing the income gap between those earning a living wage able to support their families and those struggling to make ends meet.

Our economic goal should be to reduce excessive dependence on the economic sectors that often fluctuate wildly and make the city’s economy — and tax revenues — less volatile in the future. We still need retail beyond Walmart to keep tax dollars in Orleans. Education of course is a key element in this mix to build a tech-centric agenda. Our public, private, and state-run school system should also ramp up more tech studies as well as health care to keep up with potential new jobs. The private sector should provide many more internships — paid and unpaid — so that young people can get hands-on experience in a particular industry.

Better education and training is clearly the key to reducing economic inequity, crime and broadening the city’s prosperity. President Obama has been speaking about economic inequity as an increasingly prominent issue.

The fact is rich Americans are pulling ahead and the middle class is shrinking. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the income of the top 1 percent of Americans rose 275 percent from 1979 to 2007, but only 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent. Furthermore at the end of 2013, the five biggest banks in the U.S. held 44 percent of the financial assets of the banking industry, up from 9.67 percent in 1990. We need economic will at the national level to change our economy globally.

Let’s hope our mayor, council and school leaders redirect their efforts toward the goal toward better educating students in STEM studies, and our economic development folks work with our elected leaders to create internships and new tech jobs right after next week’s elections.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board, and Columbus is working on the campaigns of Stacy Head, Charles Foti and Jared Brossett. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.

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  • Hoodoonola

    New Orleans needs to get innovative with our economic and workforce development system and strategies, which at present is entirely too employer centric, and which all too often denies the existing talents, skills and abilities of our workforce, instead channeling the jobless into mindless low paying jobs through demeaning programs. Let’s not forget that it was (and still is ) the creative cultural products and services from our city’s most marginalized and neglected neighborhoods that the city and its tourism industry have relied upon for decades. New Orleans would not be renowned as one of the world’s most creative cities were it not for the music and art of these neighborhoods. What has Audubon Place actually produced besides the rising inequality, exclusivity and ever rising barriers for the city’s real producers and workers? We need to expand the ownership base and allow for residents to work together more effectively and in a more self-determined through the worker-owned cooperative business model, which is what many other cities and regions are doing. MN recently identified their state will face a shortfall of more 50,000 home healthcare workers by the end of the decade ~ their solution, both encouraging unioniztion and helping to facilitate worker-owned businesses in the field.

    • Cmb6091

      Isn’t Audubon place where Drew Brees and Tom Benson lives? You do realize that the saints organization and pelicans pay million dollar salaries to several dozen players? How much state income tax does that bring? Moreover, how much property tax is paid in Audubon place? Property tax funds our schools, police, fire department. If that were not enough, I have 4 to 5 acquaintances who work for the saints and pelicans as trainers, community relations, and attorneys, all of them live in NOLA. In addition, does Drew Brees not employ people at Jimmy Johns, at a good rate may I add. How many 100′s of business around the area make money profiting from sports events and subsequent merchandising of their gear? to answer your question, “What has Audubon Place actually produced besides the rising inequality, exclusivity and ever rising barriers for the city’s real producers and workers?” It is a heck of a lot more then you give credit for and I have only mentioned the people in the news who knows what else the people in those homes do and have done for the city, which includes paying boat loads of taxes.

  • Cmb6091

    The United States as far as developed countries are concerned is probably the easiest country in the world to get up an relocate from state to state. Not having the workers already hear in New Orleans has nothing to do with us not having a tech sector frenzy in the city. What we are missing is an anchor. Up starts go from no name to Facebook, Uber, and the like over years of support from the local community. Crowdfunding is the future for up starts to acquire capital. Change the tax scheme and provide financial incentives similar to what is provided to costco to venture capitalist and up starts who participate in crowd funding local companies. The key is that subsidies always carry strings and the tech co. could be required to keep a percentage of its assets or business within city limits for 5 to 10 years. Once we get an anchor, the better schools, less crime,and emphasis on teaching tech to students will come.

  • jason

    Not much hope with Mayor Landrieu in control. He is totally committed to the one industry he knows – Tourism. He has personally killed off the BioDistrict and the efforts to grow high wage jobs. Ditto to workforce development through STEM education by refusing to back the enlargement of the Math & Science high school project. He has held up Delgado’s planned expansion of the School of Allied Health in order to see his grand vision is to build a New City Hall advance.

    His plan will make us a “Consumer City” with more service related jobs in tourism and retail. Nothing against those sectors but they do not created sustainable livable wages.

    Think real hard on election day what 13 million tourist will look in our beloved New Orleans!

  • Angie Peckham

    I grew up in what became Silicon Valley and lived there for decades. Every time I hear about a tech company considering a move to New Orleans, I get heart palpitations. You think New Orleans culture will never be squashed? You’re wrong. That kind of money and Type A personality gets what it wants. Keep it on the Northshore. I promise. You don’t want it here.