Louisiana is not generally known for its success in economic development terms, and post-Katrina the nation’s view of Louisiana as corruption-ridden and inefficient has (justifiably) grown considerably worse. Update: I hope Bobby Jindal’s election represents a turning of the page in this regard!
I thought I’d highlight an area of economic development success for Louisiana government and for the current governor’s administration in particular. Kathleen Blanco appointed Johnny Bradberry, a former energy company executive, as head of the Louisiana Department of Transportation at the beginning of 2004. Bradberry has done an excellent job at the La. DOTD, and has specifically driven forward the TIMED program, which is responsible for widening key highways throughout Louisiana from two to four lanes.
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Today a regular season game will be played at the Louisiana Superdome, and we Saints fans will be watching with excitement since our team is 2-0. Amazingly, the New Orleans Saints have issued over a thousand press credentials, in a sign that tonight’s game is about much more than football. Over $185 million has been spent to renovate the Dome and to erase the memories of the weeks following August 29, 2005.
The Saints’ return to the their home field and the relatively quick turnaround of the Superdome stands in contrast to the condition of many surrounding neighborhoods. While reconstruction has begun, most observers have been appalled at the speed of progress and lack of a cohesive redevelopment plan. But in individual instances, where the political will coalesced, significant progress has been made: in politics, New Orleans’ archaic systems of seven real estate assessors and two clerks of court are being consolidated, while in business the Port of New Orleans is back near 100% of pre-Katrina shipping volume.
The progress with the Superdome and the accompanying media frenzy will be good for New Orleans, and give it a chance to put a more positive image in front of viewers nationwide. To be sure, the rebuilding has just begun, and New Orleans’ familiar plagues of crime and corruption seem to have returned faster than most residents. New Orleans will likely emerge a smaller city; as one of the smallest NFL markets, the Saints’ long term commitment to the area remains an open question. But for one night at least (and hopefully all season!), the Saints will bring excitement and positive energy back to the city – and who can blame us Saints fans for dropping everything else to get caught up in it?