With the natural attention that shifts to New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season each year, it’s difficult not to recall somber memories of the devastation that the city faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As an entire nation, many of us can collectively remember the days after the wake of the hurricane and looking on with heavy hearts. Since the catastrophic event, which occurred nearly a decade ago, New Orleans has been on the long, yet promising, road to recovery.
We have roots in both Virginia and Louisiana; New Orleans is Paul Watson’s, our co-founder and COO, hometown. Our shirts, our products and our perspective as a brand all trace back to our upbringing in the South. We feel like our current city of Richmond shares a kinship with the spirit of New Orleans.
New Orleans is perhaps one of the most unique cities in America; a place where cultures not found elsewhere in the country intersect and harmonize. Cajun, Creole and the communities of the Bayou have developed many distinct traditions in food, music and culture that stretch far beyond Louisiana’s borders. Taking advantage of its close proximity to the gulf, the Big Easy boasts some of the finest cuisine in the entire country by using fresh ingredients distinctive to the region. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, perhaps one of America’s greatest artistic gifts to the world during the 20th century. Celebrated artist such as Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr. and the Neville Brothers once called New Orleans home. And of course, the city just hosted its annual Mardi Gras festivities, which is one of the greatest traditions of the city.
In addition to culture, the surrounding areas of New Orleans supply many vital natural resources that contribute to the wealth of our nation. This region is a primary source for the nation’s crude oil and is host to the second-largest fishing industry in America.
On August 29, 2005, many of the industries’ of the Gulf Coast came to a grinding halt when Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Registering at a Category 3 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the storm’s sustained 100-140 mph winds stretched more than 400 miles across the bayou. The aftermath of the storm caused levee breeches, massive flooding, and ultimately a monumental lapse by the government in meeting the needs of the people affected by the storm. In an example of the incredible power of journalism, the team behind Chicago Public Media’s This American Life was on hand to produce an unforgettable radio program that helped to put a face (or voice, in this case) to a small segment of the hurricane’s survivors. The storm resulted in approximately 204,000 homes being destroyed or damaged, more than 800,000 displaced citizens, and estimated damages of over $100 billion.
Focused on the aftermath of the Hurricane, the HBO TV series Treme gave a dramatic account of the city’s chefs, musicians, Mardi Gras Indians and citizens from all walks of life as they rebuilt their lives and homes while supporting their city’s unique culture. Although fictionalized, Treme presented a very real portrait of New Orleans and did justice to the spirit of the city.
In terms of economic development, New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole are experiencing an incredible entrepreneurial renaissance. Historically, Louisiana has a long track record of fostering start-up businesses, some which eventually went on to form large companies. Delta Air Lines, for example, was established in 1924 as a Louisiana aerial crop-dusting operation. Despite its history in supporting small business, Louisiana’s economic development had been in a state of gradual decline for decades prior to Katrina.
A key component of increasing a city’s artistic, creative and entrepreneurial reputation is through gaining support from public, private and political sectors. The latter is often the hardest to achieve, but in Louisiana, local and state governments have aggressively increased funding for these initiatives. In the surge of tax incentives that have passed in the wake of Katrina, the rate of entrepreneurship in Louisiana is now 46-percent higher than it was a decade ago. Based on the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, CNN Money ranks Louisiana as the 9th most entrepreneurial state. In addition to tax incentives, some attribute Louisiana’s low cost of living, considerable talent pool from its universities, and hospitable atmosphere that attracts many entrepreneurs to the state.
Another industry that has benefited from the state’s generous tax incentive program is film production. 30 films that were shot in Louisiana were released in 2013 alone. New Orleans is the epicenter of the Louisiana film industry, with shoots ranging from feature length to independent projects. What’s most impressive is the quality of films that are being shot within the city. Two films in particular, 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, were both filmed in New Orleans and went on to win a total of 6 Academy Awards – including Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave. From a labor and a monetary standpoint, the Louisiana film industry provided 13,690 jobs and brought $810 million to the state in the past year (Hollywood Reporter).
In the span of nearly nine years post-Katrina, roughly 80-percent of New Orleans’ pre-storm population has returned. It has been a slow but gradual homecoming. It’s been well-documented that a disproportionate amount of New Orleans’ impoverished population have remained away from the city while wealthier citizens have returned. As New Orleans comes back, some neighborhoods boom, others stay blighted. The downtown area is vibrant and new neighborhoods have been constructed, standing in sharp contrast to the numerous vacant and overgrown lots where homes once sat throughout the lower-income areas of the city, particularly in the Lower Ninth Ward.
As the city embarks on a new frontier and pursues the development of new industries, it’s important for New Orleans not to lose the foundation that has made it so remarkable. We see this as an ongoing trend in a handful of cities across the country, and it would be a loss for a similar scenario to pan out in New Orleans. We’re talking about the musicians, the buskers, the cooks, people who have called New Orleans home for generations that intrinsically understand its traditions, the city’s heart and soul.
In the years since the storm, there are many ways in which New Orleans has changed its trajectory. When the storm first hit in 2005, many people wrote off New Orleans as a lost city, but thankfully this did not happen. New Orleans’ citizens are building a stronger place to call home, not in the direction that it was set for pre-Katrina, but in a new and exciting path. “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” let the good times roll, is more than a saying, but a local mantra that adequately captures the spirit of New Orleans. The city is resilient, one that is willing to band together to weather the good and the bad. Through a hurricane, a deep recession and an oil spill, New Orleans and its people have not only survived, but thrived.