Mayor-Elect Gets Down To Business

New Orleans needs more hard work and attention to detail — not quick fixes — to improve its economy, Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday as he introduced a 30-member citizen panel that will help craft his administration’s blueprint for business growth and retention.

“There’s nothing that’s going to be easy,’‘ said Landrieu, who was surrounded by more than two dozen community leaders he described as among the city’s best and brightest. “The basics and the fundamentals here are all tough.

“And I don’t want to continue to beat a dead horse, but if the city’s not safe, it’s going to be very hard to bring anybody here. If the schools don’t teach, it’s going to be hard to recruit companies to come.’‘

The team of advisers is the second assembled by Landrieu, who last week named a committee charged with helping him choose a new police chief, a decision he has said will be his administration’s most important. Landrieu wants to make that selection prior to his May 3 inauguration.

On Tuesday, he said the work done by his economic development task force will be long range.

The committee co-leaders are Leslie Jacobs, the education reformer and business executive who dropped out of the race after Landrieu entered at the last minute, and Greg St. Etienne, chief executive of Citizens United for Economic Equity, a nonprofit group specializing in small business loans.

Jacobs, who endorsed Landrieu, said despite of the challenges facing the new mayor, she is confident better times are ahead.

“I think that New Orleans is at the precipice of just tremendous economic development opportunities and job creation,’‘ she said. “I’ve never been more optimistic about the city, and I think with his leadership and the opportunities that we have, New Orleans is going to experience a great renaissance.’‘

St. Etienne said he is committed to providing the administration “with a road map that will help us develop our economy to the best it’s ever been.’‘

Landrieu said he will focus on several avenues he believes are ripe for immediate results, including the $2 billion proposal for new adjoining hospitals near downtown which he called “one of the greatest potential job creators that we’re going to see in our lifetime in the medical field.’‘

The mayor-elect also reiterated a campaign pledge to give his whole-hearted support to a stalled initiative that would hand over responsibility for the city’s economic development efforts to a public-private partnership. “We think that’s the one that works,’‘ Landrieu said. “That’s the one that we’re going to pursue.’‘

Landrieu said his other priorities include:

Advocating improvements to the Port of New Orleans pegged to the Panama Canal expansion project, which is due for completion in 2014.

More emphasis on creative and digital media. “Think about the film industry-plus,’‘ he said. “There’s potential for growth in those areas. Now, it’s just about elbow grease and actually going to get it.’‘

Luring retail development. Landrieu said eastern New Orleans would be a perfect location for a complex similar to Baton Rouge’s Mall of Louisiana.

A ramped-up commitment by City Hall to address the needs of existing businesses.

Landrieu also indicated that he is prepared to rethink a decision by Mayor Ray Nagin to expand parking meter enforcement to Saturdays and raise rates late this month.

“This goes to the issue of things that are happening in City Hall right now,’‘ Landrieu said. “There’s only one mayor at a time.

“And I think it’s fair to say when we step into office on May 3, we’re going to review every decision that has been made, especially those that have been made in the last 90 days. And I think that (parking meter rates) falls in to that category.’‘

Pressed for how he feels about collecting meter fees on weekends, Landrieu said free parking on Saturdays is “a good idea.’‘