Hecht Highlights Economic Wins, Challenges at GNO Inc. Meeting

NEW ORLEANS — Roughly 1,200 business and civic leaders attended the 2023 Greater New Orleans Inc. Annual Meeting on Jan. 13 at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. Dubbed “GNO United,” the gathering included a review of economic development wins from 2022 and a detailed presentation on how the region can “unite to create a brighter future for Greater New Orleans.”

At a time when New Orleans is dealing with a surge in violent crime and many other challenges, it was undoubtedly reassuring for the attendees to get a dose of optimism and good news from the region’s most prominent economic development organization. And GNO Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht didn’t disappoint.

“When people ask how things are going in Greater New Orleans, I often revert to Charles Dickens: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’” Hecht told the crowd. “I truly believe that our region possesses more opportunity than ever, even compared to the post-Katrina reconstruction. But our challenges are perhaps greater than we have seen in years. It’s up to us to determine which way the story ends.”

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Hecht ticked off a list of 2022 recent economic development wins.

These include the $13.2 billion Venture Global LNG project in Plaquemines Parish, a $2 billion container facility in St. Bernard Parish; a $75 million federally funded clean hydrogen cluster in south Louisiana; and the Port of South Louisiana’s plan to purchase Avondale Global Gateway.

“This announcement [from the Port of South Louisiana] underscores how critical it is for us to develop a coordinated Port strategy, and for all four ports to work together,” said Hecht. “No matter what, our strategic sights must be collectively set on how we collaborate, to outperform the competition, particularly in Mobile.”

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Hecht also highlighted the GNOwind Alliance, which now has more than 250 members; Excella’s new 150-person tech hub in New Orleans; the Healthy School Food Collaborative in St. Tammany; a $160 million Niagara Water Bottling facility in Tangipahoa Parish; Faubourg Brewing’s 75-person expansion in New Orleans East; and Hubig’s Pies re-opening after a decade since the fire in Jefferson Parish. 

Despite these wins, the New Orleans business community is acutely aware of the many challenges facing the region. These include the flood and homeowners’ insurance crisis, coastal erosion and the post-pandemic crime surge in New Orleans.

In response to the crime wave, GNO Inc. helped lead the creation of the NOLA Coalition, a group of nearly 500 organizations working to support youth services and the New Orleans Police Department while pursuing long-term solutions.

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“In just a few months, working with Mayor Cantrell, the City Council, New Orleans Police Department, and many partners, the NOLA Coalition has become a significant force and has driven change,” said Hecht.  

He said the group has raised over $5 million toward its $15 million three-year goal to support youth service organizations, and priorities in 2023 include pursuing a national search for NOPD Chief, supporting NOPD recruiting and retention efforts and a focus on violence prevention.

Hecht told the crowd that getting crime under control — while addressing the region’s other challenges — is essential if New Orleans plans to stack up more economic development wins in the future.

“I can envision two potentials for Greater New Orleans,” said Hecht. “The first is what I would call the Nashville outcome: with a thriving combination of economy and culture, Nashville leads the nation in number of cranes in the sky. The second is what I would call the Key West outcome: transforming into an economic and geographic archipelago, still loved but attracting only destination weddings and bachelor parties. So, which is it going to be? This decision is up to us.”

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