Letter from the President

Welcome to the Q3 2021 issue of REGION magazine.

It has been a challenging few months, with Hurricane Ida and the continuing impacts of COVID. GNO, Inc. and partners have worked continually to help those impacted by the huge storm, especially our partners in Jefferson, and the River and the Bayou regions. That said, there has also been some remarkably good news for Greater New Orleans, that should be noted and appreciated.

First, homegrown Greater New Orleans startup Levelset announced that it had been acquired for a stunning $500M.  Founder Scott Wolfe, Jr. grew up in the construction business in St. Bernard Parish.  He went away to SMU for college, where he learned computer coding, and then returned to New Orleans to get a law degree from Loyola University. Scott started Levelset (then called zLien) in 2012, to help building contractors and suppliers get paid faster for their work. The first formal money into Levelset came from the New Orleans Startup Fund, a nonprofit evergreen early-stage investment fund started and incubated by GNO, Inc., and supported by an EDA capacity-building grant. The Startup Fund invested $75,000 into Levelset, which was leveraged to then close nearly $400,000 of additional New Orleans angel investment.  In the following years GNO, Inc. provided a range of on-going assistance to Levelset, including accessing incentives; finding and training workers; evaluating real estate; and public relations. Levelset’s $500M exit is a record for Louisiana, and the second-largest construction-tech acquisition in history.  The good news is the Levelset has committed to work with GNO, Inc. to continue to grow in New Orleans, and the exit will result in over $185M being injected back into the Greater New Orleans economy, via Levelset employees and investors.

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Second, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) was ranked as the number one large airport in North America for customer satisfaction, based on J.D. Power’s 2021 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, which was released on Sept. 22.  MSY was also ranked #1 in Food & Beverage and Retail. The annual study surveys passengers in six categories (in order of importance): terminal facilities; airport arrival/department; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail. In the large airport category of 10 to 32.9 million passengers per year, MSY achieved a score of 844 based on a 1,000-point scale.  MSY’s #1 ranking represents remarkable improvement from #28 in 2016—fifth from the bottom—and reflects the impact of the new terminal, better services, and increased flights, including international.

Finally, while Hurricane Ida created significant wind damage, there was no surge damage in the areas protected by the $15B flood defense system constructed after Hurricane Katrina.  Despite huge seas, St. Bernard, Orleans, and Jefferson (inside the system) took on no water.  This is a testament to our ability to mitigate weather risk, and shows that we can now do the same for the other parishes in our region.

What all of these wins show is that Greater New Orleans can do big things: record-breaking entrepreneurship; world-class transportation; and life-saving infrastructure. We must continue to dream—and act­—big.

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Michael Hecht

GNO, Inc. President & CEO

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