New Orleans ripe for a ’burst of advanced industry growth,’ urban expert says


New Orleans is ripe to find its niche in economic development opportunities brought by innovation districts such as its downtown biomedical corridor, according to Bruce Katz, a former federal Housing and Urban Development senior adviser and a leading expert on urban cultivation.

In a speech delivered to New Orleans business and economic development leaders Wednesday (Oct. 31), Katz characterized New Orleans as “set for a burst of advanced industry growth” amid the city’s continued rebuilding after the levee failures of Hurricane Katrina devastated local industry in 2005. But to take advantage of that potential, Katz said local government, business and academic leaders ought to hone in on specific areas where the city could thrive on the innovation front, be it biotech applications to bridge health disparities or flood risk reduction.

“It doesn’t really matter what the investment is,” Katz said, “but it has to be something that is local, that is effective and that feels like it’s New Orleans.”

Katz pointed to three cities that have taken long economic strides following downturn periods through innovation districts and structured, decisive governance models: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Copenhagen, Denmark. What those cities have in common, Katz said, is each has created a mechanism for attracting private investments for capital infusion into public assets, such as innovation districts or, in Copenhagen’s case, a sturdy public transit system.

To grow on par with those cities, Katz said New Orleans should focus on strengthening collaboration between public and private stakeholders that prompts conversations in which participants “decide, not discuss.” That way, city leaders can better devise real, shared goals to locate innovation niches and more efficiently utilize the city’s public and private wealth.

“You need a different approach to governing and financing that is 21st century in form, design and execution,” Katz said.

Katz’s appearance Wednesday at the Louisiana Cancer Research Center was co-sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, whose president, Andy Kopplin, has helped lead efforts to transform areas surrounding the old Charity Hospital complex on Tulane Avenue into an innovation district. A state-led committee selected a proposal earlier this month to redevelop the hospital area with housing, retail and offices that include co-working and collaborative spaces.

Speaking ahead of Katz on Wednesday, Kopplin framed the hospital’s redevelopment as part of a larger plan released last month that outlines workspace, biotech and medical development, affordable housing and transportation options in a proposed Spirit of Charity Innovation District, neighboring City Hall.

“It’s a roadmap to create a lot of jobs, to honor the history of the former Charity Hospital and to create a model development strategy that will truly be equitable and inclusive for New Orleanians,” Kopplin said.

Kopplin also joined a panel discussion following Katz’s speech that included Ellen Lee, the city’s economic and Community Development director; Gene D’Amour, senior vice president for resource development at Xavier University and a member of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center’s board of directors; and Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc.

Also speaking Wednesday morning, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell echoed calls for strengthening collaborative approaches to building out the downtown innovation district. On top of advocating for a more equitable redistribution of revenue generated in New Orleans, the mayor said her administration views public health as a policy driver on many issues, from local economy to cultural investment.

“I think it’s time for us to get out of our own way and make it happen,” Cantrell said.

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