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Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina burst the levees and devastated the city of New Orleans. The immediate flood damage, however, illuminated problems existing long before the storm made landfall. Years of unemployment, poverty and an unstable economy multiplied the upheaval of the storm, which left behind $200 billion in damage and an additional $2.9 billion in wages lost during the 10 months following.
A decade later, New Orleans has not simply rectified the physical damage, but is a now thriving hub for SMBs. A combination of blossoming business and deeply rooted culture has brought new life to the city, and with it, a fresh economic landscape. Since MarketWatch named it the most improved city for business in 2011, New Orleans has created 14,000 jobs. Today, 75% of the city’s population believes major progress has been made in job creation and attracting new businesses.
Small businesses carried much of this rehabilitation. In fact, 79% of New Orleans’ workforce is now employed by small businesses. While many existing businesses overcame the challenge of rebuilding their operations after the hurricane, another group contributed to the economic boost by joining New Orleans after the storm.
Art decor retailer Slippin’ Southern is one of the many small businesses that moved to New Orleans, inspired by the city’s resilient spirit in the midst of tragedy. Although owner Gregory Morris was not a resident of the city during the storm, he shares the opinion that New Orleans’ best days are still ahead.
Making the Move to New Orleans
Slippin’ Southern was launched in 2011 with the creation of their first “Hey Y’all” wooden sign in small town North Carolina. Two years down the road, Morris and his wife took advantage of the freedom that comes with running an online business and decided to transfer to their dream destination, New Orleans.
But in the months leading up to the move, Morris watched as New Orleans faced more devastation with Hurricane Isaac. Although apprehension was inevitable, post-Katrina success gave Morris full confidence in New Orleans’ ability to face any disaster that might come its way.
“New Orleans and its people have incredible resilience,” Morris said. “They know they live in the path of these monsters and they always have a plan. They are prepared, go when they have to and then they come back.”
Since then, Slippin’ Southern has embraced New Orleans’ culture and confidently calls the city home. Although they did not experience Katrina first hand, the fingerprint of the storm’s devastation is impossible to overlook.
“We are new kids on the block and don’t have any idea of what it was like to live through Katrina,” Morris said. “We run across pictures of the aftermath from time to time and our jaws will drop when we see something like a favorite bar or restaurant that we now go to often totally under water.”
Creating Beauty out of Demolition
Despite the rebuilding that is yet to be accomplished, Morris sees the leftover destruction as a source of inspiration and artistic opportunity. Each of Slippin’ Southern’s wall signs depict the finest parts of southern life with a vintage touch. Designed for both children and adults, the whimsical words and shapes are handcrafted to look like they have weathered years of stormy seasons on the side of barn.
“We created our first major line based on the reclaimed wood that is abundant from around the city due to demolition — wood that is still being claimed from what Katrina took,” Morris said. “Old and worn has such beauty, we strive hard to create that look and feel in the pieces of the collection.”
Slippin’ Southern, which sells both through its online website and its Etsy store, credits the thriving small business atmosphere to the community feel of the city and the high tourism rates. In fact, New Orleans has nearly regained its 10.1 million tourists recorded in 2004. In 2014, the city welcomed 9.5 million visitors, the largest yet since Katrina. Slippin’ Southern hopes to capitalize on this rising trend with their dream of opening a brick-and-mortar in the French Quarter.
“There’s no other city that we would even consider opening a retail shop in except New Orleans,” Morris said. “The tourist foot traffic is so amazing.”
Considering the number of old buildings, houses and vacant lots waiting to be remodeled, opportunities are vast for entrepreneurs looking to launch in the region with their own omnichannel selling strategy. This, combined with its convenient access to international shipping ports, makes New Orleans a prime location to start a business with ambitions of mid-market scale.
“Two major things that make New Orleans great are its deep sea port which brings international commerce, and its tourism which brings people — neither of which are going away,” Morris said. “In fact, they grow each year bringing more people to the city and putting New Orleans on a global stage.”
Taking into account the unimaginable destruction of Hurricane Katrina just a decade ago, New Orleans has developed into a booming business locale, not simply among the southern U.S., but on a greater online retail scale. Although the pain of Katrina will never be forgotten, Slippin’ Southern joins the growing small business community as they look to surpass the rebuilding phase and prove their efforts are more than a comeback.
“People that love New Orleans have always loved New Orleans, even before Katrina,” Morris said. “As time marches on, Katrina will fade in everyone’s memory, but New Orleans will continue to grow into a larger and larger, thriving Southern city.”
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