Image: Bourbon Street
Carlos Barria  /  Reuters file
Tourists walk on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter neighborhood of New Orleans last week. Mayor Ray Nagin is heading to New York, partly in an effort to woo people back to his hurricane-shattered city.
updated 8/30/2006 7:26:21 PM ET 2006-08-30T23:26:21

With the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina behind him and the task of rebuilding New Orleans’ shattered economy just beginning, Mayor Ray Nagin will lead a two-day pitch to New York’s investment community designed to bring much-needed business to the devastated city.

The delegation of business and public sector leaders will spend Friday and Saturday at a theater in Manhattan, touting city and federal tax breaks for investment, encouraging filmmakers to return to the city and seeking commercial sponsors for next year’s Mardi Gras, an idea that didn’t take off in 2006 as the city struggled through a scaled-back Carnival season.

With images of the devastation dominating national news media this week, New Orleans is struggling to market itself. The city’s pre-storm economy largely was based on tourism, the port, military installations and higher education, but a growing health care and biotech corridor was showing promise.

According to the state Labor Department, the metropolitan area had 173,000 fewer non-storm related jobs in July 2006 than in July 2005. The economic recovery is being hampered, in part, by the Herculean and tortuously slow task of restoring thousands of lost housing units, disruptions in the city’s education system and the lack of a comprehensive rebuilding program.

Nagin is going to a city that experienced its own disaster nearly five years ago — the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Nagin, faced with questions from a CBS “60 Minutes” crew about the slow pace of New Orleans recovery, created a controversy when he quipped, “You guys in New York can’t get a hole in the ground fixed, and it’s five years later. So let’s be fair.” Nagin later apologized, saying he was simply making a comparison of how difficult it is to recover from a disaster.

Ernest Collins, executive director of arts and entertainment for the mayor’s office, said Wall Street executives, representatives of the arts and tourism and private investors have been invited to attend the New Orleans presentations. Hundreds of invitations have been sent out, a representative of Ken Sunshine Consultants, a New York public relations firm handling arrangements for the visit, said. Officials would not make the list public.

Collins said the delegation would be focusing on two points: the city’s core — its business and tourism areas — was spared destruction and is open for business, and the fact that tens of billions of dollars will be spent in the coming years rebuilding New Orleans.

With the city’s budget under stress, officials hope commercial sponsorship of some Mardi Gras events can help pay for the extra police and fire protection needed during the celebration, which typically is credited for an annual $1 billion economic boost.

The group’s agenda also includes a seminar on doing business on Bourbon Street, a key attraction for tourists and conventions, a vital sector which lost eight months of business after Katrina.

Loren Scott, an economist who tracks Louisiana employment, said the agenda concentrating on less labor-intensive efforts is a good start for Nagin, given the city’s current housing shortage.

“If you’re trying to attract any labor-intensive operation like manufacturing or distribution, that’s where I think he’s going to face some extremely difficult situations,” Scott said. “The housing situation is going to make it difficult for an employer to find help.”

It’s unclear how much interest the New Orleans trip will draw.

“It may wind up bringing nothing home, but you have to do it,” said Scott. “It’s the wrong signal just to stay at home.”

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