In and around New Orleans, Louisiana, business is booming.
The mouth of the Mississippi River is not only the release valve for the country’s largest watershed, it’s also a confluence of commerce – a critical gateway for everything from energy and shipbuilding to agriculture and consumer foods.
But what the river gives, it can also take away.
“We get questions all the time from businesses looking to relocate,” says Jasmine Brown DeRousselle, Senior Vice President of Policy at Greater New Orleans, Inc. “The economic conditions are right, but what happens if a storm comes? After Katrina, they want to know, how resilient is the coastline? Is the city prepared to sustain weather events? They want to make sure that their people have a place to work and live and our team can help ease those concerns.”
Greater New Orleans, Inc., and its nonprofit arm Greater New Orleans Development Foundation (GNODF), share a goal to create a region with a thriving economy and excellent quality of life for every person who lives and works in the 10 parishes in and around the city.
For businesses in Southeast Louisiana, a thriving economy includes addressing coastal land loss, flooding and water management challenges to ensure climate-resilient communities.
“If a storm hits and you can’t access your warehouse or building, that affects your bottom line,” says Jasmine. “We aren’t here to play favorites. We are here to bring together business leaders, apply their expertise to these issues and ultimately protect the jobs and assets of our entire community.”
To support this work, in 2014 the GNO Development Foundation founded the Coalition for Coastal Resilience and Economy. Uniting business leaders across industries, the Coalition’s goal is twofold – educate and advocate for coastal restoration and water management at the local, state and federal level.
This work is supported by the Walton Family Foundation. It's part of our effort to build broad coalitions of support around the projects and people improving the health of the Mississippi River.
Restoration efforts on the Gulf Coast have opened a unique opportunity to bridge divides and bring together people and ideas to provide durable solutions that protect coastal residents, businesses and nature.
The Coalition is made up of leaders of all stripes in the energy, maritime, real estate, finance and manufacturing fields. “At first,” Jasmine jokes, “they thought we were tree huggers.”
Through education, site visits to active projects and hard data on the thousands of jobs that these projects protect and create, Jasmine says business leaders better understand what she calls the “moral and fiscal nexus” of supporting coastal restoration along the Gulf Coast
Restoration projects along the Gulf Coast are now creeping closer to what advocates call the “coastal cliff” – the point at which settlement money from the 2010 oil spill runs out in 2031. So, GNODF is also looking to the future.
“As residents of this region, obviously one of the first things we think about is longevity,” says Jasmine, who grew up on the river’s west bank. To ensure that business support for nature-based coastal restoration work continues, GNODF has engaged young professionals in the business community through their NextGen Council.
“They’ve grown up around the impact of these projects and they understand the importance. Mobilizing them in our efforts to engage with elected officials and the media is going to continue to be so important, especially as they rise into positions of greater influence,” says Jasmine.
GNODF is also actively engaging with and listening to the more diverse and overlooked communities that are frequently most threatened by a lack of action on climate-related water threats.
“As a state, we’ve done a great job at getting these programs funded and launched. But there hasn’t been a lot of diversity in who benefits from the billions in procurement these projects add to our economy,” Jasmine says. Over the past two years, GNODF has worked more intentionally to educate minority business owners on procurement opportunities and provides technical assistance through the complex process of winning government contracts.
As New Orleans looks to its future, keeping the city open for business has also meant staying open to big ideas.
Finding consensus on the biggest challenges of our time is never easy, but the broad support for coastal restoration in Louisiana shows that it can be done. For Jasmine’s team, collaboration between business, philanthropy, science and government has proven that as they protect people and nature, they can also lift them up. Jasmine’s team has proven that by fostering collaboration between business, philanthropy, science and government, the people, economy and nature of a region can be protected.