A New Foundation
So was the city's entrepreneurial underpinning always there, even before the storm? Hecht's take is that New Orleans has always been a cosmopolitan place that's tolerant of diversity, which is good for fostering business innovation--but that, historically, seniority and lineage were viewed as more important than raw talent. "New Orleans can't rest on its heritage anymore," Hecht says.
"It's a 180-degree change from what it was like before the storm," says Brent McCrossen, co-founder and CEO of Audiosocket, a Seattle music licensing firm that opened a New Orleans office in September 2008 to better tap into what McCrossen says is a $600 million film market. "It's more collaborative, and things are a lot more streamlined."
The issue the New Orleans business community faces now is how to sustain the momentum. Even the most optimistic understand that the post-Katrina levels of attention and investment can't be permanent.
"We have about five to seven years of a recovery economy," Hecht says. "In a typical year, our region will see about $1.5 billion in infrastructure investment. For the next three, we'll see $10.5 billion. That means we'll be riding a wave of investment that's not reality."
Says Guidroz of Free Flow Power, "The help isn't going to be around for too long--we need to build our own foundation."
That foundation may already be taking shape, particularly in the collaborative nature of the new business community. "People in fashion and entertainment and hospitality are all working together," Guidroz says. "When you meet people, it's not 'What do you do?' It's 'How can I help?'"
The entrepreneurs' unofficial headquarters is Loa, the candlelit bar at the International House hotel. Sean Cummings owns the hotel, which is right across the street from his 220 Camp Street development-home to The Receivables Exchange and Audiosocket.
Loa has an open, welcoming vibe. Local business types frequently gather on the plush purple lounges to relax, swap war stories, maybe meet the owner of a new business a mutual friend has convinced to relocate to the area.