I've wanted to write about Katrina, but I wan't sure what to say. I still don't, but I'm going to put some of my thoughts down on paper (so to speak). I cannot speak about the tragedy with any authority, I am blessed more than I possibly deserve and I have no experience which might give me even a glimmer of insight into the human tragedy going on. I have frustrations about the response by local, state, and federal agencies, but what more can I add to what is already being said elsewhere?
I do believe New Orleans can be rebuilt and repopulated and have a resurgance it wouldn't otherwise dream of. To have this rebirth it will take a great deal of effort and money. The infrastructure requirements alone will require hundreds of millions (or should we just say billions?) and this will have to come from federal coffers. It has to come from the federal budget because no one can envision how it can be fully financed through the largely non-existant city and poor state governments. But more than the buckets of money required for infrastructure, the business and social aspects of the areas need to be rebuilt.
At this point I want to say I made a grave mistake early in the crisis. I called up a friend who was in real estate and I indicated I would be interested in properties that were going for firesale prices. I wan't that crude, but I also did not realize the true depth of the problem. This is a tragedy that will surely have many people take an inappropriate advantage of the situation, but I do not want to be one of them. On the other hand, I do not mind taking appropriate advantage of the situation. What do I mean by taking appropriate advantage of the situation? I mean, investing a real effort into meeting the needs of people in the devastated areas. I am not talking about a short term thing here.
To rebuild New Orleans, and many other towns along the Gulf Coast, it will take years of effort from hard working people. I can be one of those. I have thought, and mentioned to Kristi in passing, about moving the family to New Orleans. I am sure the area will be ripe with opportunity for me to start and run a business; a business that is a part of the community and provides services meeting local needs. This concept excites me as much as I am sure it scares Kristi.
Unfortunately, and despite the chance to be a part of New Orleans growth over a period of decades, I am not sure New Orleans is the place to go. I have three major concerns about moving to start a business in the Big Easy. The first is the legal system, the second is the historical environment, and the third issue is the population.
First. It is often forgotten, but Louisiana's legal system is based upon Napoleonic code and therefore unlike the other 49 states. While LA is changing some laws to meet the Uniform Commerical Code, the sytem works differently than I'm used to [Louisiana Law has a good short description of it].
My second concern is about the reputation of Louisiana and New Orleans; they are known more for being unfriendly to small business than for being friendly. After you add their historical issues of policital corruption, inept law enforcement, and decrepit schools and I'm not sure this is the place for my family or business.
But mostly I'm concerned about the long-term health (growth) of the city and area. Newsweek has an upcoming article on the steady exodus out of New Orleans over the last few years. I'm a firm believer you need good people to succeed in any venture and it's my proposition that the entire area needs good people to achieve success. I'm afraid the area does not have enough draws to keep professional people in the area.
So, what would it take to get me to uproot my family so we could move to New Orleans and start a business? It all boils down to building the infrastructure to support big business, ease the running of business, and drawing in potential talent to work and run those businesses. Here is the detailed list:
- I want to see a federal commitment to rebuild the infrastructure.
- I want the state or federal government to guarantee loans for business' building and rebuilding in Louisiana. Think of this as a localized SBA program for businesses of all sizes.
- I want the state legistlature to make a commitment to helping business' become established. There are plenty of models for them to choose from in the other 49 states.
- I want real attention paid to the corruption in the area. I don't care who becomes the watchdog--the FBI, Justice Department, SBA, Dept of Labor, some state agency, etc.--just make somebody responsible.
- I want the local community to support the rebuilding of the tourist industry. Good dining and music help make a culture vibrant and I believe this will help draw and keep more population to the area.
- I want to see a new university started. Southern California, Boston, Austin, and elsewhere have all achieved great things due in part to the number of quality colleges and universities. This is our chance to do the same for the "Jewel of South."
I expect #6 is the most controversial, but I suggest we need more institutions of higher learning to draw potential talent into the area. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest we have the first national university with a goal of being among the top 25 large learning institutions and top 100 research institutions within 20 years. The goal for 40-50 years should be Top 10 and Top 20 respectively. Great educational settings and a vibrant social scene (#5) will add to the long term probability of a good talent pool for business and civic life. This, and the legal structure which encourages business to prosper, is what will cause New Orleans to become a new jewel among cities in the U.S.