Economic Development Officials Are Using The Super Bowl Spotlight To Rebrand Louisiana

With the underdog New Orleans Saints making it to the Super Bowl, Louisiana Economic Development officials are taking advantage of the spotlight to tell the story that Louisiana is also ascendant. “What’s really great for our state is that there’s a halo effect. They’re thinking about the Saints in a new light, and they’re thinking about Louisiana in a new light,” said Stephen Moret, secretary of economic development. Rather than courting Corporate America, state economic development officials see the Saints’ Super Bowl debut as a powerful start to a long-term rebranding of Louisiana’s image. For many people around the country, Hurricane Katrina was the last good look they got at New Orleans. The Super Bowl creates a chance to show that the city is strong and rebuilding required of ordinary New Orleanians the same sort of character and teamwork that the Saints display on the field and in their philanthropic efforts. “It’s that we’re not just back, but we’re better. I think that same sort of concept can be applied to the state as a whole,” Moret said. There’s also the underdog metaphor. If the Saints had long been stung by a reputation of being an underperforming team, New Orleans had also failed to live up to its potential, and the success of the team is an opportunity to talk about tough new ethics laws, streamlined business taxes, a top-notch workforce development program and improving stature in national business rankings. “Unlike the Saints we’re not necessarily at Super Bowl level, but we’re clearly headed in the right direction,” Moret said. And in a state where low expectations is a perennial problem, being inspired to greatness by the team is not an insignificant force. “People have started to say, ‘We can be better, we should be more successful,’” Moret said. “You can see the potential and see the momentum.” Moret won’t be going to Miami this weekend, because the state decided that trying to woo specific companies in the glow the Super Bowl light wasn’t a productive expenditure. But Louisiana Economic Development did send its press person to man the media tent and talk up why the state is worthy of a fresh look over the past few days, while Saints executives and local celebrities have also woven optimism about the state into their public comments in Miami. Economic development officials are also buttressing their great team-great business climate metaphor with advertisements in Wall Street Journal and New York Times crowned by a Saints football helmet. “Take one look at the Saints stats, and it’s easy to see why they’re a champion. They turned hard work and relentless passion into a Super Bowl bid. When it comes to economic development, Louisiana is posting some impressive stats of its own. If you’re ready to play at a championship level, put Louisiana on your team,” the ad declares. But Louisiana Economic Development did use the NFC championship games in New Orleans to entertain top corporate recruiting prospects, with the help of Saints management. Austin Marks, chief of staff of Greater New Orleans Inc., said that in the fall, local economic development officials also used the Saints’ dream season as a recruiting tool, bringing site selection professionals to town for meetings, and then capping off the visit with a game at the Superdome courtesy of the Saints and executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc. Marks said that the Saints present an opportunity to tell people that New Orleans is a place where hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in recent years, and gives them a chance to see the results. “We’re not a city lying down,” he said. A packed and spirited Superdome is also an opportunity to showcase civic engagement and the strength of the local economy. “The fact that the New Orleans region can support two professional sports teams, from both a business and civic mindset, means a great deal to businesses,” Marks said. Both Moret and Marks said that no matter what happens in Sunday’s game, the interwoven story of Louisiana’s economic recovery and the Saints success is something economic developers will be able to leverage for some time to come. “Taking advantage of the past few days has been important, but it doesn’t end Sunday,” Marks said.