March 2007   Volume 4
 Issue 1

In this issue...

 NNSP, National Governors Association, and Corporation for a Skilled Workforce Collaborate

The New Orleans Region after Katrina

LA Recovery Authority Awards $38m to Support Sector Initiatives

A Glimpse at System Change in Flint, Michigan

NNSP Program Updates

Policy Updates

Funding Announcements

Partner Press Announcements

...back to Partner Press home page


The New Orleans Region after Katrina, a Perspective
by Dexter Ligot-Gordon

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita exacerbated and exposed the entrenched poverty and social isolation that touched New Orleans long before the hurricanes touched shore. The hope is that this devastation will become a catalyst for a better future.

In 2006, my colleague at NEDLC, Susie Suafai, and I spent time in New Orleans to hold focus groups with local residents and employers. We examined the challenges companies face in recruiting a skilled workforce and that residents face in getting job training and employment. These focus groups were held to help us and our partners develop recommendations for sector initiatives in health care, construction, and shipbuilding.

After one of the focus groups, a local minister volunteered to tour me through the neighborhoods—not through the areas torn down by the hurricanes, but through the public housing projects and poor neighborhoods. He expressed that far before the storms ripped roofs from New Orleans homes, the city’s economic foundations were already eroded. The minister pointed out that the city had a fractured public education system where classrooms were reduced to disciplinary corrals with students too often deprived of books and the skills needed to succeed in work or college. The lack of a decent educational system compounded with economic blight resulted in communities that are besieged by violence, rampant drug activity, and extreme rates of incarceration.

Local business owners told stories that painted an equally distraught economic picture. A year after the storms, only about a half of the workers had returned to the city due to severe housing shortages, the perception of continued instability, and the prospect of leading a better life elsewhere. The labor shortage created a number of destabilizing shocks to the economy, sparking an intense competition among employers for workers. Employers in higher-skilled industries reported that they were losing a large pool of employable residents to employers with lower-skilled job openings. Employers such as fast food chain restaurants were offering immediate openings with extraordinary wages, lucrative signing incentives, and attractive weekly retention bonuses, appealing to local residents who could earn the same amount of money in a fast food restaurant for example, than they would in a higher-skilled job in construction or health care which requires a few months of training. These conditions are forcing many employers in higher-skilled industries to recruit out of the region and in some cases, out of the country.

Despite the bleak surroundings, threads of hope and a desire to work together were woven into the stories told by local residents and employers. Residents continually said that they wanted to get jobs in construction and shipbuilding because they wanted to learn the skills that would help them rebuild their homes and community. When asked about the health care industry, residents displayed a desire to become nurses and health care workers to take care of their community members. Employers likewise emphasized the desire to build the New Orleans community by cultivating local talent and providing good jobs to the local community. They expressed interest in investing in job training programs to address literacy problems and the challenged education systems. Overwhelmingly, they expressed a desire to create new ways that industry, the local community, education, and government could work together to rebuild the community and resolve the deeper problems that has impeded the city for generations.

NNSP is working with Greater New Orleans Inc. and the Lindy Boggs Literacy Center along with the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce to create sector initiatives in the construction, health care and shipbuilding industries. New Orleans and the State of Louisiana, are increasingly investing in sector strategies to strengthen the regional economy. They are realigning the local education, workforce training, and social service infrastructures to close the gaps in the labor market. With the aim of rebuilding New Orleans and its economy, the local community is using sector strategies to provide residents with good jobs and employers with the skilled workers they need to thrive.