Culture. Equity. Prosperity.

What is NOLABA and what has it done for New Orleans lately? A lot.
Perspectives Economicdevelopment

Norman E. Barnum IV is president and CEO of NOLABA. He may be reached via email at rbarnum@nolaba.org.


In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, the city’s limited portfolio of economic drivers and significant wealth and health disparities amongst its citizens were suddenly spotlighted on a global stage.  During the post-Katrina rebuilding period, former Mayor Ray Nagin, the City Council, and the business community created dialogue around how to ensure that an entity exists to work on behalf of New Orleans proper and execute a long-term economic growth strategy that would transcend mayoral administrations.

In 2010, newly elected Mayor Mitch Landrieu followed through with campaign promises to bring together multiple sectors of the residential and business communities and evaluate solutions to remedy the city’s economic woes. After exploring possibilities and studying national best practices, Mayor Landrieu introduced the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA), a nonprofit organization composed of a coalition of businesses and civic leaders. 

The goal of a public-private partnership (P3) between municipalities and their respective business communities is to design growth solutions that can leverage resources from both the public and private markets.

Today, NOLABA is one of 71 accredited economic development organizations on the planet.  The organization has been recognized internationally through numerous awards from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and acknowledged for its unwavering commitment to equity illustrated by its tagline: Culture. Equity. Prosperity.

NOLABA invests its energy and resources into three areas: Bio, Innovation, and Special Projects, which supports the growth of New Orleans’ bio industry, and creates and implements innovative solutions to attract capital and new businesses, while retaining existing ones; Small Business Growth, which focuses on leveraging resources to help entrepreneurs of color grow their businesses and build wealth for local residents, and Strategic Neighborhood Development which gives community-led organizations a voice through technical and development assistance,  youth-driven opportunities, and grants amongst other efforts.

Since 2020, NOLABA has taken its $3 million investment from taxpayers through the city and in turn generated $13 million in matching dollars from other sectors. The results and impact made throughout the New Orleans community are robust. During the past few years those wins include but are not limited to:

  • Earned a $1.4 million investment from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the state of Louisiana to build wet lab facilities in New Orleans, helping to ensure that homegrown companies have a home in which they may expand and grow jobs
  • Earned $400,000 investment from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to create a Community Economic Development Fund.  This fund is currently being structured with the goal of investing directly in real estate and commercial projects in New Orleans that align with NOLABA’s mission and benefit chosen neighborhoods, entrepreneurs of color, and others
  • Launched InvestNOLA/Ascend NEW ORLEANS, a custom ecosystem for high growth

BIPOC New Orleans businesses

  • Facilitated more than $50 million in small business contract opportunities and more than $3 million in capital for small businesses in 2022
  • Awarded a $500,000 grant funded by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to initiate the InvestNOLA executive education construction cohort and strengthen collaborative partnerships with local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs)
  • Obtained access to a more than $350 million National Entrepreneurs of Color Fund for two local CDFIs, leveraging their impressive lending potential
  • Established a partnership with Mastercard®, securing approval of a $300,000 grant to support small business programming
  • Awarded $500,000 in federal funds by the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) for the state of Louisiana to provide patient debt capital for local businesses owned by people of color
  • Secured $100,000 from Louisiana Economic Development (LED) to support ongoing Community Building & Engagement initiatives
  • Provided 250+ hours of technical assistance and development, which leveraged over $600,000 to support community-led efforts
  • Invested more than $100,000 in community-led projects to advance commercial revitalization efforts and build economic development push within the seven targeted neighborhoods
  • Secured a $400,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to launch a second cohort of the Resilient Corridors Initiative, supporting the implementation of business growth strategies for an additional 40 small businesses
  • Leveraged more than $450,000 in partnership with Arts New Orleans to support public art and creative projects in New Orleans East
  • Provided paid apprenticeships to 35 opportunity youth to install a series of youth-driven murals throughout historically disadvantaged neighborhoods

Throughout some of New Orleans’ most challenging times, NOLABA has proven its worth and capabilities. Immediately following the shutdown of the city in March 2020, the team seeded its “Gig Economy Workers Fund” with $100,000 of unrestricted operating dollars to support tourism and hospitality workers and:

  • Raised matching funds from the private sector (corporations and individuals), bringing the total deployed fund amount to $774,750
  • Reviewed 1,700 applications
  • Accepted 1,028 applications that proved Orleans Parish residency and loss of income, totaling $514,000 in individual $500 grants
  • Transferred all 1,028 individual $500 grants to citizens within five months
  • Transferred seven organizational grants totaling $260,750 to:
    • $32,750 — French Quarter Festivals, Inc.
    • $50,000 — Ashé Cultural Center, Efforts of Grace Inc.
    • $50,000 — Music and Cultural Coalition New Orleans
    • $32,000 — New Orleans Musician Assistance
    • $32,000 — Culture Aid NOLA
    • $32,000 — New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation
    • $32,000 — Creative Response

By creating innovative and necessary pathways for New Orleanians to reach their full potential, NOLABA is making “Culture. Equity. Prosperity.” a reality for generations of New Orleanians to come.