Our Views: A new plan for new era

If you try to capture every element of New Orleans, even if only in business and the economy, you are bound to leave something out of the list. But if you are building an achievable plan for business development, you have to have focus.

It is that focus on the development of five key sectors that we like in the otherwise broad-gauged ProsperityNOLA plan unveiled this week by the city’s business, civic and political leadership.

The five sectors are intended to be growth targets, and don’t include tourism — that’s covered by the agenda of the existing agencies and groups in the city. It doesn’t include the energy sector, which was historically part of the city’s growth but is now more broadly part of a state economic picture than a purely local one.

Energy is still important, and not to be ignored, but not necessarily needed in the New Orleans Business Alliance’s strategy document.

The plan wisely targets areas where there can be significant growth in a revitalized New Orleans economy: digital media, sustainable development industries, trade and transportation, biomedical innovation and advanced manufacturing.

In every case, there are significant early seeds of new development since the storms and levee failures of 2005 — particularly the sustainability industries, as the disasters of that year show that the world, not just New Orleans, needs businesses to respond to rising challenges of wind, water and ecological change.

The economic asset our forebears identified in 1718, the Mississippi River, is still with us but can be part of a greater logistical network. More recent assets like Michoud’s facility can be repurposed as part of an expanded base of the high-value manufacturing that American businesses are part of in a global market.

The 81-page report does include some buzz words and vague intentions. It is based on targeting clusters of businesses and supporting institutions, and there are places where similar strategies succeeded and others where cluster development did not provide the synergies hoped for.

There are parts of it we wonder about, including whether there is the public investment in higher education sufficient to be competitive in biomedical innovation; some states are investing billions in this cluster, and Louisiana may be outgunned.

But much of the PropserityNOLA plan seems very sound, reflecting the broad base of business experience and community knowledge represented in the more than 200 participants in its development. It can be downloaded at http://www.nolaba.org.

If we encourage people interested in the future of New Orleans and the state to read it, that is not only about the economic development potential of particular industry clusters. Rather, we applaud the central insight that has brought the plan into being, and that is that the broken political process and social strictures by which New Orleans operated before Katrina are not competitive in today’s global economy.

If the plan is fueled by the optimism we see every day in the city about the future, it is not complacent about our challenges. “The city is positioned for success, but cannot rest on its laurels,” the report says. “The competition is too fierce.”

It is that, from Singapore to San Francisco to Stockholm. To compete in that league, a city almost entirely reborn needs a targeted business plan like this one.