Michael Hecht: This is how New Orleans can benefit from post-coronavirus economic change


The global economy is changing because of the coronavirus. In Greater New Orleans, if we act today, these changes can work to all of our benefit tomorrow.

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. Greater New Orleans — already one of the fastest-growing tech communities in the country — should be a top destination for technology reshoring.

Within technology, specializations where greater New Orleans is already strong are going to boom. Video games are hot and have grown 65% year-on-year. Augmented reality, which allows people to virtually “touch” items, is going to grow. We also have opportunities at the confluence of music and technology, which is a focus of GNO, Inc.’s “New Orleans Music Economy” initiative.

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 online, and then picking up curbside or enjoying home delivery. With our river, ports, six class-1 railroads, and extensive highway system, 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 premade 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.

As it has many times, the energy industry will respond to current challenges by using technology and innovation to become more efficient. For example, while platforms will remain manned, enhanced remote monitoring will increase safety and reduce costs. This change will create an opportunity for Louisiana companies to lead the innovation and support the next phase.

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, just as we saw post-Katrina, expect a surge of entrepreneurship in greater New Orleans. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the needs of living and working in the post-corona “new normal” will drive a wave of innovation from startups. The success of GNOpivot, which has seen dozens of local companies rapidly changing their business models to meet community need while driving new revenue streams, testifies to this entrepreneurial spirit.

What are the local actions we must take in order for the region to be prepared for these global changes and the opportunities they present? With safety as a theme, we must commit to marketing the region and telling the world that greater New Orleans is open for business and leisure. We must also continue to bolster our business-friendly environment, which encompasses everything from tax climate to infrastructure to overall quality of life. Finally, at all levels, we must fully commit to education. If our people are educated, trained, and upskilled, they will be able to take advantage of the broad range of economic opportunities our region is uniquely positioned to secure.

We know change is coming, and with it, opportunity. Let’s take the actions today that will ensure economic diversity, well-paying jobs and a better quality of life, for tomorrow.

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