For about 20 years, New Orleans’ business and political leaders have introduced a variety of community get-well efforts aimed at strengthening and diversifying their economy – moving beyond tourism, energy and trade services to back-office, technology, knowledge and creativity-based enterprises.
After the storms, there are new options that can be considered because of: 1) new money – the nation’s expected substantial investment in the rebuilding; 2) new ideas about what land can be protected and how; 3) new demographics – the potential resettlement in other places of people whose quality of life was so poor at home.
Among the federal proposals is the creation of an opportunity zone, characterised by generous tax credits and access to low-cost financing.
For several years in the US, there has been one consistently unmet demand – one that continues to exceed the supply: the demand for a technology workforce. Companies have tried to meet the demand by importing workers through the H-1B visa programme but that supply is now constrained because the
H-1B quota has been cut. The talented people are out there and there are firms that want them but the visas are unavailable.
Perhaps technology executives would reconsider New Orleans if it became an H-1B opportunity zone, with every operation granted a 20-year exemption from H-1B visa restrictions. The city could extend an invitation to technology companies to bring in as many specialists from abroad as they may need, regardless of national restrictions.
It may seem counterintuitive to bring people to a place that was already short of jobs, but many of the young people in or from New Orleans would be among those who would benefit most from the arrival of new companies. And, although the locals are justifiably proud of their traditions, the fact is that the top US cities are populated by people who have been attracted or recruited from elsewhere. New Orleans’ tradition of hospitality could be a good fit.
Daniel Malachuk is senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis Consulting, New York. During his career, he has advised many of the US’s leading companies and has worked in the White House.