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March 14, 2018

‘A stranglehold that holds us back:’ New Orleans economic development leader calls for constitutional convention

The head of the region’s largest economic development group on Wednesday called for lawmakers to hold a constitutional convention to rewrite the rules that limit options for Louisiana’s taxes and government spending.

He joins a small but growing chorus of criticism that the law has hampered efforts to balance the state budget.

“Our constitution basically is a stranglehold that holds us back, and we think that we basically just need to start over because we’re never going to fix this if it’s built to fail,” Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., told a packed audience of local business people at the group’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

After a special session ended abruptly last week with the Legislature unable to shore up the state’s finances and bridge a looming budget gap, Hecht weighed in on the issue, which the Baton Rouge Area Chamber has also come out in favor of, at least in a “limited” scope that would focus on fiscal reforms aimed at resolving Louisiana’s perennial budget problems.

“We have a structural problem,” Hecht said, referring to the Louisiana Constitution, which was enacted in 1974 and has subsequently been amended almost 200 times.

At the annual lunch, which focused on the group’s “Strategies for Success,” Hecht ran through recent initiatives that were several years in the making and recently began bearing fruit. He also touched on potential challenges that lie ahead — such as lawmakers addressing the state’s looming fiscal cliff.

Hecht’s nearly hour-long presentation frequently returned to Virginia-based DXC Technology’s plans to open a New Orleans office that will eventually employ 2,000 people. It’s a win for the group that was helped by using tax incentives as a recruiting tool and the city’s culture as a selling point, and helps signal New Orleans as a fledgling technology hub.

Hecht also discussed on improved international service at the New Orleans airport, led by last year’s return of transatlantic service to London and Frankfurt. He also cited recent tenant expansions at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans East, which added hundreds of new jobs in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing sectors.

Meanwhile, hiring is already underway at DXC Technology, which bills itself as an “end-to-end IT services company” and is slated to grow to be among the region’s largest employers.

Valued at more than $25 billion, DXC is roughly the 110th largest company in the world, with 170,000 global employees and nearly 6,000 clients.

This week, New Orleans officials signed off on a $6.5 million incentive package for the company, part of a broader pact dangled by Louisiana Economic Development that’s valued at roughly $115 million. That includes $25 million that will go toward expanding the number of degrees that Louisiana colleges and universities award annually in science, technology, engineering and math.

Landing DXC’s new office, Hecht said, was “game-changer” that “validates greater New Orleans and Louisiana to the rest of the world.”

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