Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Economic Development 1

In order to survive New Orleans needs Economic Development.

Historically two paths have allowed economically disadvantaged groups to move into the middle class, government employment and skilled labor.

Government employment in New Orleans has largely been captured by the families and friends of long time politically connected residents.

Movement into skilled labor has been obstructed by history, culture and institutional barriers. When I started in my career many years ago the building trades were effectively divided by race. African Americans were largely limited to laborers and to plasterers. The remaining trades seemed restricted to whites. This was largely the result of union legacies.

Our political elites seem to have become intoxicated by idea the minorities should have "equity" in government contracts. How this benefits the goals of racial equality beyond a few enclaves of the well connected, I've never figured out. I'd think a requirement for employment large numbers of local residents or a requirement for skills training or some other mechanism would seem better targeted towards the economic development of New Orleans than the payment of tribute to the usual suspects.

For a long time I've wondered why the traditional black universities in New Orleans and elsewhere have not embraced the construction industry.

It seems to me these institutions could train the next generation of project managers and the generation of business owners beyond that. In the process these new manages and leaders with one foot in the community and one foot in commerce could provide a path for many into the middle class.

The reconstruction of New Orleans will take a long time yet, and there is still time to train these leaders.

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