Nearly Ten Years Later: How Hurricane Katrina Transformed New Orleans into an Attractive Market

On August 29, 2005, the city of New Orleans made national headlines following one of the worst natural disasters in American history.  Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc and destruction on New Orleans, causing billions of dollars in property damage, claiming hundreds of lives, and displacing almost the entire population of the city.  This disaster was a devastating blow to a city already dealing with more than its fair share of hardships, including its woefully inadequate public education system, limited quality jobs, and high poverty rates.  But, from disaster comes opportunity.  Nearly ten years later, New Orleans has made significant strides in the realm of public education and has become a hotbed for entrepreneurship and retail development.

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans public schools were considered among the worst in the country, with a high school graduation rate of only 54.4 percent the year before the storm.  Following the hurricane, the state of Louisiana’s Recovery School District seized control of nearly all of the city’s underperforming schools and either closed such schools or turned them over to privately managed charter school operators.  This drastic method proved fruitful. In 2013, the graduation rate increased to 77.8 percent, topping the statewide average of 72.3 percent.  Given that better quality jobs are available to individuals with more education, there can be no doubt that the current educational system has increased the city’s economic vitality.

In addition to an improved education system, New Orleans also experienced an entrepreneurial boom in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Following the storm, many young and talented individuals were eager to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, and to that end, developed start-up companies.  In 2011, Forbes ranked New Orleans number one on its list of “America’s biggest brain magnets,” and named New Orleans as the “coolest start-up city in America.“   Further, from 2009 through 2012, there were 501 business start-ups per 100,000 adults in the metro area – a rate that exceeded the national average by 56 percent.  To date, entrepreneurship in New Orleans continues to expand and shows no signs of slowing down.

New Orleans has also become one of the fastest growing commercial real estate markets in the country since Hurricane Katrina, thanks in part to the $120.5 million in federal aid used to restore the city’s infrastructure.  In the past four years alone, New Orleans has welcomed several national retailers to the metro area, including H&M, Costco, Whole Foods, and Tiffany and Co.  In addition, New Orleans is now home to The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, the nation’s first outlet center located in a downtown sector.  These developments have created more than 7,800 new jobs and have provided a much-needed economic boost for the city.

Camalla KimbroughAlthough New Orleans has been resilient in the face of great tragedy, great care must be taken to ensure that it does not return to the state of stagnation that plagued the city before Hurricane Katrina.  Given the current momentum sweeping the city, however, such a concern is premature at this time.

About the Author

Camalla Kimbrough is a New Orleans-based attorney in the Advocacy Department at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC where she focuses her practice on employment law and commercial litigation.