We need to talk. Seriously.
New Orleans is heading toward big trouble and it is going to take we citizens to save it.
Last week, LSU economist Loren Scott delivered his annual Louisiana Economic Outlook address. Usually the speech is delivered before a packed civic luncheon, but, indicative of the world we now live in, the address had to be delivered virtually.
Most years there is a sense of guarded optimism to the report, which is filled with numbers moving in different directions. This year, the guards must have left their post and the optimism escaped. Not to be alarmist or anything, but the analysis is dismal and the prospects for New Orleans even worse. Usually in a crisis the hoped-for outcome is a V, a symbol that was once up and then went down, yet shot upward again. According to Scott, there is no apparent V in our future; instead there is something resembling the Nike swoosh, that symbol on the side of sports shoes that after going down heads out rather than up again.
There will be job recovery, but not enough. By the end of 2022, Louisiana will be 11,300 jobs behind the 2019 level. The slow-paced recovery of the oil industry is the problem, Scotts says. Places dependent on the oil industry, such as Houma and Lafayette, will need until 2023 to recover.
New Orleans, one of the world’s great cities to visit (my comment, not Scott’s, though I am confident he would agree), relies heavily on hospitality visits and hospitality needs convention business that is not coming. Scott predicts a huge decline in big meeting gatherings, as would-be travelers shun mass get-togethers. (Video conference technology is also cutting into the need for convention gatherings.) As it happened, the day after Scott’s speech the Morial Convention Center board was told about the cancellation of two unnamed major meetings.
If there is hope it may be this: While many cities throughout the world suffer the same situation, New Orleans has so much to offer. We are a naturally attractive and fun city without having to install a rollercoaster. Plus, we already have the infrastructure with restaurants, hotels and a new airport terminal. All we need now is for people to use them.
We know the city should do more to attract manufacturing, tech, healthcare and other glamour industries, but the world is our competition. Let’s keep up the fight but remember that hospitality is the one area where we have an advantage.
There is precedent for places coming together when they face an economic crisis. In the 1980s, I was part of a group that wanted to create a literary festival as a small step to help during the oil recession. Because of the hard times, support came easy. The airlines chipped in flights. We got free hotel rooms and restaurants offered comped meals. The festival, which became the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary festival, was only a blip in terms of the city’s needs, but by now it has a national reputation and has developed its own groupies (though hardly any services are free anymore.) New Orleanians have shown themselves to be geniuses at creating events out of the city’s heritage, such as our Mardi Gras, (arguably, when not interfered with, the greatest Carnival celebration in the world). A major music scene evolved from this city: The Jazz and Heritage Festival made a global event out of dancing to our own rhythm.
Now, the city is going to need more. This is serious. We will need more ideas (not all linked to hospitality) and more commitment. We need for the swoosh to turn upward rather than outward to form a V for victory. I refer to the present COVID-19 situation as “the war.” Now is the time for a new Greatest Generation to join the fight.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.