By Michael Hecht
President, CEO of GNO Inc.
New Orleans has always been beloved for food, music and festivals. Following Hurricane Katrina, we became renowned for something else – resilience. This combination of ingenuity, grit and grace reached its apex in 2010, when the New Orleans Saints won their first-ever Super Bowl. Rising from the waters of the flood, the teamwork, commitment and faith of the Saints showed the world what it means to be from New Orleans.
It is therefore encouraging, but not surprising, that New Orleans is responding to the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus with a similar balance of compassion and determination. In fact, over the past weeks New Orleans has managed to "flatten the curve" of the virus as well as anywhere in the nation, with average daily cases dropping over 90 percent. Additionally, the state of Louisiana is a leader when it comes to testing for COVID-19, ranking sixth in the country in terms of tests per capita, according to Johns Hopkins.
Going forward, local businesses are deeply committed to re-opening safely, with the protection of customers and employees coming first. Recently, GNO, Inc. released a public report, "Getting Back to Work in the New Normal," that details global best practices for business re-opening, to be applied locally here in New Orleans. Businesses are investing in protective gear, enhanced hygiene, and a range of work-flow changes to ensure they can serve the public safely and efficiently. (For those lovers of al-fresco dining, one of the immediately upsides has seen a big shift toward outdoor seating.)
And businesses are looking to the future. The fact is, the global economic changes being driven by coronavirus offer a range of new economic opportunities New Orleans is uniquely positioned to secure.
For starters, there will be an opportunity for more well-paying manufacturing jobs in the region, as companies repatriate their supply chain. The old strategy was to reduce costs by outsourcing, especially from China; that dependency has now been shown to be a potential expensive weakness. Louisiana, with its experience and logistical advantages, has great potential for reshoring of manufacturing.
Similarly, technology companies will be bringing programming jobs home from abroad. It's been discovered during the coronavirus lock-down that domestic techies could work from home with virtually no interruption. In less developed countries, this has proven to be difficult. New Orleans – already one of the fastest growing tech communities in the country – should be a top destination for technology reshoring.
Retail has seen a decade of change condensed into two months, and is now dominated by logistics.
Going forward, stores will become more like fulfillment centers, with people browsing on-line, and then picking up curbside, or enjoying home delivery. With our river, ports, six class-1 railroads, and extensive highway system – along with low utility rates - Greater New Orleans is an excellent location for the logistics hubs that will power this trend.
There will be other opportunities borne of our logistical capabilities. For example, frozen foods and pre-made meals have both grown during the crisis, and this development is expected to continue into the future. Greater New Orleans has famous cuisine, vast access to agriculture, and some of the biggest cold-storage capacity in America, making it is a natural location for value-added food manufacturing.
And it goes without saying that the health-care industry is evolving as a result of the coronavirus, particularly in two areas: infectious disease and telemedicine. Our institutions already are at the forefront here, with local universities and hospital systems leading the way in treating COVID-19, and partnering with the private sector for better health outcomes.
Finally, tourism. The fact is, 2019 was a record year for visitation to New Orleans, with nearly 20 million people from around the world flying and driving to the city. And 2020 began with great promise, with double-digit momentum in both dining and entertainment. Without question, hospitality has been hit hard by the coronavirus. But with even more certainty, hospitality will come back. Our food and festivals define who we are, and the global love for this cultural identity is undiminished. Our hospitality community is fully committed to welcoming the world back to a New Orleans that is as exciting and entertaining as ever, and safer than ever.
In New Orleans, sports is more than entertainment. The Saints and Pelicans are metaphors for the soul and spirit of the city. With the Saints tipped as a Super Bowl favorite, and the Pelicans welcoming the most dynamic player in a generation, our hometown sports teams embody the professionalism, pride and promise of New Orleans, as a whole. We take care of our own. We play as a team. And in the economy, as in sports, we will win.