New Orleans’ resilience will keep it on the road to recovery

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Americans across the country watched New Orleanians prevail and rise above the devastation and destruction brought on by Katrina and Rita five years ago. The nation’s eye is on us, once again, watching to see how we will rebound from the latest tragedy foisted upon us: BP’s oil spill. Our resiliency and unwavering commitment to our community, our business and our families remain as steadfast today as it was following the catastrophic storms five years ago. But today, there is a difference. The long-term impact of this epic spill on the economic foundation of the Gulf Coast region, spanning four states, is calamitous.

We are now concerned that as it did in the aftermath of Katrina, the nation will slowly turn a blind eye to our coastal communities. The cameras and journalists covering these events will head home, media coverage will halt, and public discourse will shift its focus to other issues. Our economic plight is very real and we now must not only rebuild the region that we once were, but we must create a better and stronger region for the future. To be sure, we face challenges.

The BP oil spill jeopardized the environmental integrity of our coast, crippled fishing communities, and threatened the health of the Gulf’s oil and gas production, one of Louisiana’s greatest job generators. Although we are relieved the Obama administration lifted the moratorium on new deepwater oil drilling, the federal government is still examining tax policies that could have an adverse impact on domestic producers. And, according to a recent study by Moody’s Analytics, the BP oil spill could cost the Gulf Coast region 17,000 jobs and roughly $1.2 billion in lost economic growth. These numbers are deeply troubling and beg the question, how can we effectively push past Louisiana’s current economic uncertainty and fully utilize its economic and cultural assets?

The answer is simple: aggressively promote economic development initiatives throughout the Gulf Coast. We need smart, strategic thinking that will focus priorities and leverage already existing resources. I recently joined the Gulf Coast Economy: Ready 4 Takeoff Coalition, which is doing just that. The group, which includes community leaders from the public, private, non-profit, and academic sectors, has been a vocal advocate for development projects that aim to increase our area’s competitiveness and promote non-traditional private and public sector opportunities in our region.

For example, Ready 4 Takeoff believes the federal government should leverage its buying power to ensure a robust market for the Gulf Coast seafood industry. While Louisiana fishermen and seafood processors continue to produce an abundant and safe supply of product, sales remain low because consumers fear the seafood has been tainted by the oil spill. The buying power of the federal government for the military, schools, and other bulk purchases can immediately consume the supply of seafood products available and ensure the industry continues to do what it does best: harvest quality and healthy food from the Gulf of Mexico and inland waterways. This action will have an immediate and significant impact on Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi.

Ready 4 Takeoff has also joined the efforts of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu in calling on the government to expedite the revenue sharing from offshore oil and gas development. Under current law, Louisiana will receive funds from leases near the coast in 2017. Should the revenue flow be accelerated, Louisiana would have access to immediate cash to invest in coastal restoration and preservation systems, which, in turn, will help create more jobs. The group also supports current efforts to construct the KC-45 Real Tanker in Mobile, Alabama. With the U.S. Air Force slated to award the federal contract for the project on November 12, this initiative — which will create tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs — could serve as a building block for the region’s economic recovery.

These timely and targeted investments in the Gulf will give our region the shot in the arm it needs to, once again, weather the latest economic storm. I call on my fellow New Orleanians to join me in this mission and support the efforts of the Ready 4 Takeoff Coalition. Together, we can build a better tomorrow for the Gulf.

Ewell Smith is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board and Member of the Gulf Coast Economy: Ready 4 Takeoff Coalition.

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