The inaugural episode of BOOM! The Southeastern Commerce Podcast focuses on trade, infrastructure and economic development in New Orleans.
Michael Hecht (Greater New Orleans, Inc.) and Brandy Christian (Port of New Orleans) join Chris Kane and Zach Butterworth of Adams and Reese for a discussion about the city’s job growth, New Orleans’ new airport, the effect of trade wars on the economy and trade, infrastructure challenges and an update on the Public Belt railroad.
Transcript and Show Notes
Christopher Kane: Hello everyone. I’m Chris Kane with Adams and Reese in New Orleans. Welcome to the first episode of Boom! The Southeastern Commerce Podcast, where we talk trade, economic development and business issues affecting the region. Today we’ll be focusing on the Greater New Orleans economy, the state of the Port of New Orleans and port trends and looking ahead to 2020.
We’ve got three excellent guests with us today. First we’ve got Brandy Christian, who is the President and CEO of the Port of New Orleans. Brandy comes from the Port of San Diego, which is two things we’ve stolen from San Diego that are excellent, both Drew Brees and Brandy, and Brandy has taken over New Orleans, the port industry and doing an incredible job here in New Orleans. We look forward to talking with you.
We also have Michael Hecht, who is the President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc. Michael is recognized as one of ten people who made a difference in the south. His family has been here in New Orleans since the 1830s, or in Louisiana since the 1830s and on the side he’s better known as DJ El Camino. We also have Zach Butterworth. Zach has joined our GR team here at Adams and Reese about over a year and a half ago, coming from Mayor Landrieu’s administration. He also worked for Congressman Richmond and for Senator Landrieu. And if you need any fishing tips, he’s a charter captain and knows where to bring you.
Zach Butterworth: Got to be good at something.
Michael Hecht: Right, everybody’s got a side hustle.
Christopher Kane: So welcome guys. We’ve got some excellent news to talk about off the top, which is the airport announcement that we recently had and the new airport looks just absolutely incredible. I know some of you guys had an opportunity to be there for the grand opening. I just want to get your thoughts on what you think about the airport and what does it mean for New Orleans. Michael, we’ll start with you.
Michael Hecht: Great Chris, thanks. It’s great to be here. You know, I think that the airport opening is one of the most significant events that we’ve had in recent times in New Orleans, in the region, in the state. I would put it on par with the reopening of the Superdome, and I think actually it will surpass that. What’s so impressive about the airport at first look literally is, I think it’s one of the most beautiful, elegant airports in the country and maybe the world right now. It’s not just big and bright and clean and new. But it has kind of a sculptural quality, almost like being inside a Richard Serra sculpture. It’s just a moving experience.
What’s been talked about less which is actually maybe even more significant about the airport is that it’s actually from a business model perspective, a drastic improvement over the previous one. The business model of airports is that they take all non-airline revenue, which is retail and parking largely, then they subtract the operating costs, which is the cost of running basically a shopping mall with airplanes. Then whatever is left over is the cost per passenger that the airlines share. Because this new airport is going to have better retail behind security and because it’s going to be much more cost-efficient than the current terminal, the cost per passenger is going to be lower. And that’s going to mean we’re going to have even more flights.
Christopher Kane: And Zach, you had an opportunity to come see this now from both sides. You worked on the project when you were with the mayor’s administration and now you get the opportunity to see it open. What are your thoughts?
Zach Butterworth: It’s a great facility. It took a huge team from the City of New Orleans, to the Aviation Board, to the City Council, Kenner City Council and mayor there, Jefferson Parish, the state of Louisiana. It’s remarkable that this long after Katrina we were able to come together and do something this big that required this many people to pull in the same direction. So kudos to everybody that played a part in it.
Christopher Kane: And it’s not often that in our community we have a $1.2-billion asset added to the books, and we’re excited about it and Brandy, from your standpoint, a good airport means more visitors and more access I would imagine to the cruise world. And how do you see it impacting the Port of New Orleans?
Brandy Christian: Absolutely Chris. Thanks for having me here today. It’s wonderful to see such an elegant terminal open up. When I came to New Orleans a little over four years ago, we were at the old facility. And in trying to attract cruise lines, that is a critical piece of infrastructure, that the cruise lines, that’s the first impression for most cities. So to see the investment, not only the benefit to local residents. We benefit obviously from the amenity. But airports really become an attractor of corporations, of business and absolutely, cruise line business.
And in the reverse, the cruise line business is essentially guaranteeing passengers for the airport terminal, which in return gives confidence to the airlines to put in direct services, domestic and international, which we all would love to see more direct services. About 90% of cruise passengers come from out of state, and over 32% of those fly through the airport. So it’s very exciting to see the grand opening.
Christopher Kane: Well, it’s great and again, it’s an exciting time. We had second lines leaving and second lines coming in, in the last couple of days here to open the airport.
Michael Hecht: And so Chris, if I could just say one piece of breaking news that I just learned about two hours ago, is that because the flight’s been so successful, British Airways has just publicly committed to now going to six days a week on the direct flight to London.
Christopher Kane: That’s awesome.
Brandy Christian: That’s great.
Christopher Kane: Well, thanks for that information and again, it’s in large part to the work that GNO Inc. has done and others to try to make sure we get a new airport and dedicated service internationally and to more stop in the United States, to make Louisiana as accessible as possible. Turning to another kind of inaugural groundbreaking report that Greater New Orleans Inc., was involved in with Bank of America, Merrill Lynch I believe, is the Greater New Orleans Job Report. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s behind that report and what the findings were, Michael?
Michael Hecht: Yeah, of course. This is our effort to not only map what’s happening today, but where the jobs of the future are going to be in the region. And we’re doing this not just to inform the public and let businesses know what we see is happening. But we’ve got a very close partnership with our universities. And so it’s a way of helping them design curriculum that’s going to speak to the future needs of our businesses and ensure growth.
And the good news is that what we’re seeing in our region is a diversification. It’s a diversification that has not historically happened here. Houston did it after the oil bust of the ‘80s. We didn’t and we suffered by comparison. But now you see traditional, foundational industries that have made us great for centuries, like International Trade, are doing very well. We are number two in the nation for foreign direct investment on a per capita basis. We also see things like Advanced Manufacturing doing fantastic with Michoud, building a mission to the moon and a mission to Mars, and with LM Wind Power, a GE company, designing and testing the longest windmill blades in the world.
So those traditional industries are doing great, and we’re seeing facilities come online all up and down the river. A lot of it driven by natural gas. But you also see diversifying industries that are growing, technology most significantly. We are currently the seventh fastest-growing tech sector in the entire country, and within that, we’re ranked number two for women in tech and number nine for African-Americans holding technology jobs. And so we call that inclusive innovation. We think that that’s very important as well.
Then the final thing the report points out, which is interesting, is that we’ve got a coastal master plan which is going to go on for decades. It’s going to be tens of billions of dollars. And the plan points out that there’s also going to be a lot of opportunity for jobs and wealth creation in that work and that a lot of the skills involved are really the same skills that have been traditionally used in oil and gas. Except now instead of pushing oil through the pipes, we’re pushing sand. And so it’s a translatable skill for a lot of the Louisiana workforce.
Christopher Kane: Excellent, it’s not only an exciting report, but the analytics can help for how we move forward and plan our investments. You think that’s the biggest outcome of what we're going to see from the report?
Michael Hecht: That’s the idea. I mean, I hate to use a hockey analogy in New Orleans, but it’s the old Wayne Gretzky skating to the puck idea. And with our GNOu program that we have now working with our universities, we’re trying to help them design their future curricula. In fact it was Larissa Littleton-Steib, the new chancellor of Delgado and I said, “What’s your vision for Delgado?” And she said, “We want to make Delgado the university of the future.” And so if that’s the idea, then we’re helping describe the future so that they can aspire to be part of it.
Christopher Kane: Well, you can’t talk about jobs in New Orleans without talking about the port obviously. It’s the reason why we’re here in New Orleans and centrally located in the proximity to the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico. Brandy, you guys constantly are talking about not only the impact you have on the economy, but the support you have in direct and indirect jobs. Can you tell us what the state of that looks like right now at the port and what we can look forward to?
Brandy Christian: As Michael mentioned, the traditional economies of New Orleans have really been — the two drivers have been maritime traditionally as well as hospitality. And the port’s role and activities in both of those arenas are very strong. We recently too just updated our economic impact analysis with Stephen Barnes at LSU. We were very pleased to see the job growth numbers, direct jobs just in the region. We’re about 9000 and state-wide about 21,000 related to port activity.
I think what was most exciting about what we learned in the study was that looking at the opportunities and the jobs created in the port and maritime industry, I kind of describe it as a job for everyone. Because there are jobs for skills labor, like the longshoremen working out at the wharfs, to the professional and technicals, the engineers, to the executives and the managerial running cargo brokerage firms, shipping companies. It’s a real variety of skill and educational levels.
And the study found that those jobs in the maritime industry are about $74,000 annual salary. That’s about 31% higher than the average job here in the region. So these are family-sustaining jobs that have significant impact and provide an opportunity across a very large demographic. So we were most excited to see that in really thinking how can we move that type of quality job forward in terms of the economy?
Christopher Kane: That’s incredible. I didn’t realize it was that high. But that’s an impressive number in terms of the quality of jobs that we’re attracting at the port. You can’t talk about — unfortunately at this stage of the game, about port trends and what’s going on globally without talking about the tariff situation and its impact, whether positive or negative. And I’ve seen some interesting reports on how it’s really, truly impacting not just the Port of New Orleans, but all the ports. And from my take, I don’t think the expectations have lined up with the concerns that maybe aligned prior to these announcements and how it’s played out. Can you tell us, let us hear from you on how you’re perceiving the tariff impact to the Port of New Orleans specifically and then globally in terms of our economy.
Brandy Christian: Well, I think within the port industry and cargo in general, cargo is very sensitive to geopolitical issues, to economic issues. And it really doesn’t like uncertainty, uncertainty in supply chain and its prices. So obviously there’s been an impact. I think something Michael mentioned earlier, strategically the port has always made the decision to stay very diversified in its cargo. So we’ve had some impacts on specific cargo or commodities. But fortunately doing very well in some other sectors that we’ve been able to manage the bottom line.
I think the largest impact for us is we’ve always been within the top three as an importer, a port that brings in rubber, steel, other metals. So on that segment of our cargo, what we traditionally call breakbulk, initially we lost about 30% of that volume. Currently we’re about 10%. Again, we were able to — because of our diversity — adjust the bottom line to make up for that loss.
But what also we’re optimistic about is we are seeing other commodities that are flowing through as well. A good example is wind energy, the large components that Michael mentioned. There’s a number of projects in the pipeline. There are tax incentives around wind energy. You start to see those flow through the river. So we’ve been able to pick up some other cargos as well. Also the petrochemical plants that are being developed up and down the river, those construction projects come in as very large steel components that get shipped through the river. That is picking up some new commodities. But in general, what we’re seeing is, in terms of big projects, people are uncertain. They are kind of slow-rolling some projects, waiting to see what happens.
So there’s definitely been an impact. But the key to us being able to maneuver that is, one, the diversification. But also as those supply chains start to stabilize, if trade negotiations are successful, that we’re ready to handle that cargo and that we have the facilities that are flexible enough to move from moving steel to being able to suddenly move wind energy.
Christopher Kane: And that goes to I think strategic planning that the port’s been doing. I don’t think when you probably started your strategic planning you had a tariff war in your mind. But the diversification now allows you to strategically plan for the stabilization of tariffs. And it sounds like from the outside’s point of view, that particularly the Port of New Orleans is posturing itself to capture what it is diversified to do and moving forward, be able to bring back some of the cargo that it has lost as a result of the tariff issues.
Michael Hecht: And Chris, if I could just add one thing. I think that one of the reasons, if you did kind of an unscientific poll of the GNOu constituency, that reaction to the tariff war and against it has been muted. It’s first and foremost because the port is reporting out that they’re actually doing okay through it, what people were primarily concerned about. But also there is I think a general understanding that there are challenges with China, with their trade practices. Particularly with the way they handle IP and issues of IP theft.
And so I think there’s an understanding that some type of response was necessary. And I think folks just wish that the administration explained the necessity of this in a better way and didn’t just brush off a trade war as easy but said, it’s not easy but it might be necessary.
Christopher Kane: That’s a great point. Well, in addition to the tariff issue, which is more a geopolitical concern, here locally in New Orleans, what impacts our entire community, particularly the port, is our infrastructure. And I think right now as a state we sit somewhere around $14 billion in backlogs. We haven’t had a gas tax increase since 1989 I believe it was. And we’re desperate to come up with a strategy to either mix private investment or come up with a public solution to cure the issue. Zach, you know this all too well, because when you were at the City of New Orleans, we recognized that we had a serious Sewerage & Water Board issue as it relates to drainage, which then ties directly into our local infrastructure. What are your thoughts on the state of where we are relative to infrastructure fixes and maybe some of the things that the current administration, Mayor Cantrell, who appears to have had a successful session last year to try to come up with some solutions on some band-aids, recognizably that this is not the long-term solution, but to try to get this fixed? What are your thoughts?
Zach Butterworth: So we’re an infrastructure dependent city. We have levies that keep our water out from storm surge, keep the Mississippi River out of the city. We have pumps that pump every drop of water that land inside the city out of the city. So that’s remarkable right there. We’re one of the only cities in the world that has that scenario facing us.
And so those things aren’t cheap, right. Top of that, the lifeblood of our city, the Mississippi River, requires regular dredging, and that’s been that way and will continue to be that way. So infrastructure is a challenge that New Orleans is sort of on the forefront of tackling. Regarding the Sewerage & Water, they have a $10 billion, 10-year capital plan that really needs to be funded. And they have funding laid out for the next few years, but how that happens long-term is going to depend on taxpayers of New Orleans.
Christopher Kane: That’s a little scary, $10 billion. That’s, like, 10 airports that took us a couple of years to build.
Zach Butterworth: That’s right.
Michael Hecht: And just to clarify that $10 billion Zach, is that to maintain and improve the current system or to build the system of the future?
Zach Butterworth: It’s both. It’s both. That’s the general number they’re using, and it’s not a wish list, right. That’s a needs list.
Michael Hecht: It’s a must list.
Zach Butterworth: It’s a must list. So this administration is going to have to figure out exactly how to do that. The last administration secured $2 billion for road improvements, and those are hitting the ground now. And so those are much needed and necessary. But the Sewerage & Water Board sort of has three major components, right. It’s drainage, sewage and water, right. And right now our sewage is pretty well funded and operates pretty well. Water, we’ve had a number of boil-water advisories related to any number of infrastructure challenges. But still, that’s relatively well funded. And then the drainage, drainage, it’s no secret is not well funded. And so it’s short tens of millions of dollars every year in the operation and maintenance money. It needs to have that modern system.
Christopher Kane: And it seems like you have these pictorial moments when we recognize there is a vehicle stuck in a drain, and we had a lot of flood events around it. That sort of wakes up New Orleans to these issues. It seems like we have maybe one of those windows where everybody is focused and back on the reality that we need to get on the same page.
Michael Hecht: Yeah, I mean, I want to give a lot of credit to this mayor for owning the issue, for bringing in somebody of the national caliber of quality, like Ghassan Korban who is running Sewerage & Water Board right now. And now our task at hand is to begin to restore public confidence in the Sewerage & Water Board because we’ve got money needs. And probably the next one is going to be a drainage fee of some sort. Now the goods news about this is that if it’s structured correctly and everybody who puts water into the system contributes, that would include nonprofits like universities, hospitals, the church, then you could have a scenario quite realistically where you could actually increase the amount of funding that’s coming to Sewerage & Water Board. But the actual amount that individuals would currently play would not have to go up, because you broadened the system of folks who are paying.
That’s going to be I think the next significant political and practical step towards creating a system which not only is an improvement over the current system, but also incorporates a lot of the urban water plan passive elements, like retention ponds. Because we can build a system that can handle a once in 10-year event, that could handle ten inches of rain. But when we get a one in one hundred, one in a thousand-year event, which seems to happen every 30 years, you’re going to have to have passive elements to ensure that there’s not major damage to property and individuals.
Zach Butterworth: Yeah, and the climatologists are telling us that we’re getting about the same amount of rain. It’s just coming in taller spikes, right. And so the Sewerage & Water Board was built and the infrastructure was built to account for rain over certain periods of time. And now that’s shifting, and we can blame it on whoever you want to blame it on. But that’s something that the infrastructure will have to track. And if it doesn’t, we’re going to continue to have these same events.
Christopher Kane: Well yeah, and Zach, you’re seeing it from an industrial development standpoint. The City now has a stormwater management program in place where when you go to pull permits, like other areas that are low lying or have flooding issues, you’ve got to take into consideration what impact you’re going to have to the drainage system. The problem with it is it does add cost to construction, and we’ve seen some projects get hung up on that. But those sorts of things seem to be how the private side needs to participate and address it while we focus on how we fund the $10-billion program relative to drainage.
It’s not just the water issue in terms of the Sewerage & Water Board that our area needs to focus on infrastructure. The lifeline of the whole city in terms of the port obviously comes through the port. Dredging has been a major issue. Capacity for terminals, both cruise side and on the container side. A lot of folks don’t know the Port of New Orleans actually I think probably owns more bridges than the City of New Orleans. And they’re for sale, I’m sure you’d love to get rid of them if you could. But tell us, the port is tackling infrastructure on a daily basis and tell us what you’re doing to try to get out in front of it.
Brandy Christian: You know Chris, I often say that markets attract the business, but it’s infrastructure that closes the deal. And the infrastructure around the river around Maritime is significant and will be extremely expensive. If you look at our current container facilities, they were repurposed from old breakbulk wars. The state and the port have put almost $1 billion into the Napoleon Container Terminal over a decade or so to get us to this point where we are in our growth. And we’re really at a tipping point.
I think what’s exciting is, the gulf is really seeing a lot of attraction by cruise lines, by particularly container carriers. So there’s a lot of business opportunity there. But at the end of the day, for us, infrastructure actually begins at the mouth of the river. Right now the channel is naturally deep, plus 50 feet. But when you get to the mouth of the river, we’re dredged to about 45 feet. The great news is that the Army Corps has completed their studies. It had a significant return on investment because it’s not just to Louisiana. It’s to all the states in the Midwest, all the way up the tributaries of the Mississippi River. That if that mouth was not functioning, that it would shut down commerce to all of those states.
They’ve authorized the study, and the state has actually identified — the administration’s identified the matching funds. So it’s very feasible that you could see the Mississippi River dredged to 50 feet within the next few years. That obviously gives us more flexibility because when you talk about trends in our business, particularly the cruise business and the containerized cargo, the trend is bigger ships. And if you can’t take the bigger ships, then at the end of the day, the Port of New Orleans is the only container terminal, the only cruise terminal for the state of Louisiana. It takes Louisiana out of that game. And there are many, many surrounding gulf ports that would love to pick up the business that is naturally destined here for the Mississippi River.
So the dredging is extremely important. I think the second part for infrastructure for the port is that demand that we’re seeing on the containerized business. We’ve doubled our volumes in the last ten years in containerized cargo, and a lot of that growth has come from the investment in the petrochemical industry. The shipment of the plastic and resins that they create, they actually containerize them and ship them across the world. Significant amounts of growth and significant amount of new business that’s coming online with the new plants coming online.
The port has to be ready to handle that volume. Because about two-thirds of a petrochemical plant’s decision to choose Louisiana over Texas, is yes, the natural gas supply. But two-thirds of that decision is the transportation infrastructure. If that port cannot get my product to market in and out of the river, then we’re not very competitive. I’m going to put my plant in Texas where the port can handle the volume. So we have to be positioned to be able to continue to take the larger ships.
So we’re currently studying multiple sites, downriver, before the Crescent City Connection Bridge that can handle larger vessels. Because those terminals are extremely expensive, as I mentioned. They take time to develop. But really with two container terminals, we’ll be able to handle a much broader market, from small carriers to the large carriers. But if you think about it, getting the Mississippi River to 50 feet and no air restrictions with the bridge, we will be in a better position than any port in the Gulf.
Christopher Kane: I know a little bit about the petrochemical world and the plastics opportunity of course. But let me mention this, because this is what I think — when you talk about focusing investment on all the items you just talked about, we’re more competitive than Houston. You look at Southwest Louisiana and where the petrochemical corridor is there in proximities, and it’s more attractive even with those challenges that we’re dealing with for that cargo to come to New Orleans.
Now we’ve built some of the private side infrastructure for the packaging and value add. And we’ve got good rail service, which we’ll talk about here in a minute. But that growth in the petrochemical market is a long play, and the investment now on each of those items I think is going to create a large benefit for us. So you mentioned — I mentioned just a second ago about the rail and investment in infrastructure. Zach, you were involved largely with, again, a number of other folks from the City of New Orleans on the Public Belt.
And initially when Mayor Landrieu started shaking the tree and putting a little heat in the system, as they say, on the Public Belt, and I think he asked the question several times, why does the City of New Orleans operate the Public Belt? And there was a lot of concern and a lot of heartburn from the stakeholders on what’s going to happen because of the comfort level of knowing what you got. Talk with us briefly about how the Public Belt conversation came to be and then we’ll get Brandy’s input on how things are looking since the transaction of the Port of New Orleans acquiring the New Orleans Public Belt.
Zach Butterworth: Yeah, I think Mayor Landrieu’s theory of governing was to look at your assets and figure out what’s their highest and best use. And as we went down the list of different assets, from the World Trade Center to the airport, we got to the Public Belt and said, does it make sense for the City of New Orleans to own a railroad? Not many cities own railroads.
So we hired KPMG at the time to do an analysis and to come up with sort of a scoping of what could this look like and how could this either better generate revenue for the City of New Orleans and increase job growth in the city, help the port to grow and help the stakeholders to grow. And the outcome of that entire process — and I think it’s been a great one — was to transfer the Public Belt to the Port. And Brandy was instrumental in that deal coming together, and I’ll turn it over to her to finish the end of the — the good part of the story.
Brandy Christian: Well, thank you Zach. I agree, it was an interesting conversation. I was newer to the region, looking at the opportunity. If you think about Louisiana, we’re a very small state compared to our competitors around us. We’re a smaller population. If you look at the cargo that moves into the Port of Houston, 85% of that cargo stays and is consumed by all of the population around it.
Being a smaller state, our competitiveness really is through the rail system and through the river system because we artificially extend ourselves to those populations. So when you start to have a conversation about growth of the port, I think traditionally and ports have thought of themselves as only worrying about the waterside and building terminals. In today’s world, as I call it the Amazon world, where it’s all about logistics and supply chains, you have to think about the inland system. And the opportunity with the Public Belt and for the Port of New Orleans to be aligned was that it really took a lot of risk and uncertainty out of that supply chain and allowed for the port and the railroad together to not only focus on short-term, but also long-term strategy, capital investment, which was desperately needed.
We are now fully integrated. We’ve seen tremendous success just in the first two years. Our intermodal growth, which is basically containers moving on rail, we’re up 22% since we’ve acquired the railroad. And a big part of that was us coming together to work with Kansas City Southern to get direct service to Dallas. That has been extremely successful. We focused on the community. What can we do operationally? Where can we implement automation to reduce the impacts to the community, like blocked crossings? That’s very frustrating for any resident to deal with, and it’s not very efficient for the railroad.
We’ve been able to move our dwell time, the time that a railcar sits in the system, from 19 hours to 14 hours. The industry benchmark is 24 hours. So we’re seeing a lot of operational efficiency because together the port and the railroad working together, we can plan better for that and utilize each other’s assets. We have been able to reduce the expenses of the railroad, looking at redundancy in personnel. We’ve decreased the operating ratio of the railroad by 10% just in the first year. And we are doing a number of capital projects, like doubling the storage capacity of the railroad. Those projects will be done within a year and a half and will double all storage throughout the gateway.
So we’ve had — it was a great opportunity. I think it was very progressive for I think both the port, for the administration to think about not just how — to look at it from a financial standpoint. But how do we work together that it could be a win/win, that it grows the economy? And I think in the end that’s what the result will be.
Michael Hecht: I think that maybe it was missed a bit, but this deal and the swap of the railroad to the port and then the City getting control of Governor Nicholls Wharf so that the Crescent Park could be contiguous along the river, was a true political masterstroke. I mean, it was one of those really smart win/win deals that you don’t see all the time. And I think folks should recognize this was things being done in the right way. And the public is befitting not just from the jobs that are going to come out of improved public belt. But now we’re going to have what’s going to at one point become the longest contiguous riverfront park in the country. And that’s partly because it’s in our control, that wharf. So it was a fabulous deal, and it’s playing out I think as well as we could have hoped.
Christopher Kane: And I’ll close this issue from a political standpoint, it’s a new trend that we’re seeing in terms of not creating more parochialism. But aligning our assets and our best people to do what they can do, and that’s what you see here with the City taking over certain assets and the port and the belt being on the same page. So it’s incredible, and I know there’s more to come. And so we’ll look forward to hearing that in the future.
We’re getting close to the end of our time. I’d like just to go around the table real quick and get your thoughts on, if you were to think about your top one or two concerns in a short description that our region has and needs to face as we move forward into 2020.
Michael Hecht: I’d say two things. I would say continued economic diversification and growth. We just need more different jobs for more different people and ensuring that people get connected to those jobs via the right training and awareness and so forth. So that’s one. That’s kind of the obvious answer. And the other is this infrastructure issue. Fixing drainage and getting it right really is the existential challenge for us in New Orleans and in the region. Because as New Orleans grows, so will grow the region. So those are the two things that kind of keep me staring at the ceiling at night.
Brandy Christian: I’d echo what Michael says. At the end of the day, I think for me what keeps me awake at night, just thinking from a maritime perspective and then branching out beyond what’s in our direct control, is infrastructure. It’s a challenge across the United States where every city, they’re not building highways and roads fast enough. We have significant investments we have to make to be able not just to keep the business we have, but really grab a bigger share of the pie. That’s billions of dollars of investment, but there’s many things outside our gate. Like Sewerage & Water Board, that is absolutely essential to retaining our business and growing our business. So at the end of the day, it’s infrastructure.
Zach Butterworth: So I’m going to come at the infrastructure issue but a little different way. New Orleans has always had a competitive advantage because we were a cheaper place to live than some of the bigger metropolitan areas. But with all that needed infrastructure investments, we can’t lose that competitive advantage because if we don’t have that, certainly we’re going to be behind.
Christopher Kane: Yeah, I would just add from my standpoint, I agree with everything you guys just said. I would add the one concern which I think is very specific to Orleans Parish, is the crime issue, and to some part Jefferson Parish. We’ve made a lot of strides, and there’s a lot of effort being focused on it. But that’s another issue that I think when you have C-suite people coming into town, to look to move companies which will attract a lot of jobs, that’s a stat that you look at and we need to continue to focus on.
Michael Hecht: And I’ll just — two things, good news, bad news. The good news is that I think we’re going to see ourselves this year at about a 50-year low in terms of homicide rate and shootings, and that’s outstanding because that’s happened along with declining incarceration rates. Kind of similar to what we saw in New York back in the ‘90s. The bad news is that even with that historic decline, there are places like New York City today where the rate is still 10 times lower. So we have a long way to go.
Christopher Kane: Great point. Well, the most important question of the day, as we get close to cocktail hour, is I want to know where in New Orleans is your favorite place to get an old fashioned. If you don’t drink an old fashioned, then whatever your favorite cocktail is.
Michael Hecht: Right now it could be the fig-infused old fashioned at Bouligny perhaps.
Christopher Kane: Nice. Very nice.
Michael Hecht: Kind of a modern twist on a classic.
Christopher Kane: I like it.
Brandy Christian: I’m not an old fashioned gal, so I’d say a French 75 works for me.
Michael Hecht: I’m there with this lady.
Christopher Kane: Very good. And by the way, for a San Diegan, is that right, you certainly have figured New Orleans out. You’re always enjoying our culture and seeing you marching around on Mardi Gras parades, and that’s awesome, your family as well. So I’m taking it you’re marrying into our culture very well.
Brandy Christian: Yes, very easy to adapt to.
Michael Hecht: So you’re self-actualized.
Christopher Kane: Exactly.
Zach Butterworth: I’m more of a wine guy. And so I think to get a great bottle of red wine, I think I would say Marcello’s on St. Charles.
Christopher Kane: Very good. Well, I’m glad that you guys save the old fashioneds for me. I’ll take all of them. Perhaps at Galatoire's preferably. But look, I enjoyed it guys. Thank you so much Zach, Brandy, Michael, this has been obviously our first episode, and you are incredible people. Our community is very grateful for having talent like yours to help drive us and move us forward.
We talked a lot about infrastructure. Our next podcast is going to focus exclusively on infrastructure throughout the Southeast United States and we’ll also touch on some infrastructure here in New Orleans as well. So we hope everybody who’s listening can join us next time. And again, thank you very much.