Back to Our Roots

This year’s GNO Inc. annual meeting will celebrate New Orleans’ return to global relevance.

Greater New Orleans has always been global. Our political history is French and Spanish, with large English, German and other influences. Demographically, New Orleans evolved as a rich “ethnic gumbo,” with contributions from Africa to Scandinavia, and Portugal to Asia.

Economically, New Orleans was founded as a global port, with the Mississippi River providing access for the United States to the world, and the Crescent City as the nexus of the Latin American economy.

But a few decades ago, we began to let our global birthright slip. Starting in the late 1960s, international energy businesses migrated to Houston. Miami took the mantle of “Gateway to the Americas,” and Atlanta’s airport — thanks to a former Louisiana airline, Delta — became the busiest in the world. New Orleans didn’t become less loved by the world — that’s unthinkable — but it became less relevant.

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Greater New Orleans, once a hub of commerce and industry, became more of a cultural spoke.

In a world that is increasingly “flat” and connected, this loss of relevance is pernicious, because regions that are connected into the global web benefit from a reinforcing cycle of money, talent and ideas, while those left out struggle evermore to retain these very same key assets.

The evidence for Greater New Orleans’ decline is hard to dispute: From 1970 until Hurricane Katrina, our region underperformed the nation by nearly 50 percent in terms of job creation. While cities like Austin and Tampa soared, we stagnated. New Orleans became a place to visit (for vacation, for a convention, for college), but not a place to stay (for a job, for a startup, for a family).

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Then came the unprecedented disaster of Hurricane Katrina.

Many thought that Katrina was the sad but inevitable end to a once great global city. Headlines advised us: “Don’t Rebuild.” Pundits wondered why New Orleans had ever been built so close to the water, anyway.

But then something remarkable happened. Fueled by billions in investment and even greater personal commitment, our region began to rebuild — but not the previous iteration of New Orleans from August 28, 2005. We went “back to the future,” and began to resurrect a New Orleans that was once again a world-class city. Forthrightly addressing the syndrome of challenges that had undermined New Orleans for decades —‘ from education to corruption to economic development — we began to build a New Orleans that was once again global in aspiration and relevance.

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Our efforts resoundingly paid off this year, when British Airways announced it would start direct New Orleans-to-London service in March 2017, the first direct, nonstop service to Europe since 1982. British Airways was joined by Condor, which will start service in May to Frankfurt. Copa Airlines has also begun nonstop service to Panama City, reopening the Gateway to the Americas.

Louis Armstrong International Airport now has more international destinations than ever and is one of the fastest-growing airports in the nation. The international capstone on our revitalized airport is the new terminal under construction, designed by star architect César Pelli of Argentina.

Yuhuang Chemical, one of China’s leading chemical companies, broke ground on its $1.85 billion methanol complex in St. James Parish in Sept. 2015.
Photo courtesy courtesy of Yuhuang Chemical

Greater New Orleans is going global in other substantive ways as well. Spurred by some of the most attractive business conditions in the country, companies from around the world are investing tens of billions of dollars in southeastern Louisiana, making us No. 1 in the USA for “foreign direct investment” per capita. Dyno Nobel from Australia; Yuhuang from China; Cajo from Finland; Gameloft from France; Denka from Japan; IT Minerals from Mexico; EuroChem from Russia; Blade Dynamics from England. We even got Collision, an Irish-owned technology conference, to move to New Orleans from Las Vegas.

New Orleans is now a global thought-leader as well.

Our RES/CON conference is quickly establishing itself as the “Davos of resilience,” bringing global academics, practitioners and companies to New Orleans to share best practices. And GNO, Inc. now regularly welcomes delegations from as far as Japan, New Zealand and even Iraq who are seeking our advice on how to better manage water and live in a changing environment. To paraphrase Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans is becoming the world’s “most immediate laboratory for innovation and change.”

But perhaps most significantly, people from around the world are voting with their feet. New Orleans led the nation in 2016 in international tourism growth, at a stunning 37 percent. The city was also No. 1 in the United States in foreign-born migration growth, over 25 percent (beating out Washington, D.C.). It is one thing for Travel + Leisure to name New Orleans a “Top Ten City in the World;” it is quite another to see this accolade borne out in actual tourism and migration patterns.

In recognition of this return to global form, the theme of GNO, Inc.’s 2017 Annual Meeting will be “GNO Global.” At this gathering of over 1,000 regional business and civic leaders, we will enjoy a film on the global history of Greater New Orleans, narrated by Tulane geographer Richard Campanella. We will also review the historic wins of 2016, which culminated with an $8.5 billion LNG announcement, one of the largest in the country. Finally, we will discuss the year ahead, and what we have to do as a region to consolidate our rediscovered global status, and ensure that the world-class future of Greater New Orleans is one that creates opportunity for all of its citizens.

So please join us at GNO Global on Monday, February 13, at the Hyatt Regency. Networking begins at 11 a.m., with the program from noon to 1 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at

Thank you for making GNO global again. 

Michael Hecht is president and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., the economic development organization for Southeast Louisiana. Under Michael’s leadership, GNO, Inc. was recently named the No. 2 economic development organization in the United States by Business Facilities magazine.


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