Report: N.O. Business Owners Cautiously Optimistic Despite Challenges
NEW ORLEANS — Despite enormous challenges, including the COVID pandemic and the devastation of Hurricane Ida and other major storms over the past two years, New Orleans business owners remain cautiously optimistic about prospects for growth. This is one of several findings in a report released today by StayLocal, an independent business alliance.
Data for the 2022 Focus Group Report was collected during a two-hour session conducted earlier this year with owners of restaurant, retail and service-oriented businesses of varying ages and sizes. Research was conducted collaboratively with Pam Jenkins, University of New Orleans research professor of sociology emerita.
The report collected meaningful information on business owners’ pain points and hopes when planning for the future. The data will help StayLocal provide the most appropriate support to local businesses moving forward.
The focus group explored far-ranging topics related to the impacts of cascading disasters on the business climate, including the often-unaddressed toll on mental health.
“New Orleans is very different,” said Sinnidra Taylor, owner of Crazy Waffle Bar. “We get these things over and over again, and the mental health supports aren’t there. The expectation is to bounce back but if we want our long-term residents to stay and be resilient and be fruitful, we have to support them in ways where maybe they don’t even recognize they need support.”
While responses to questions varied according to business type and size, participants were unanimous on one issue: engaging with city departments for permitting, licensing, tax compliance and other processes is unnecessarily burdensome and therefore costly to business owners.
“City Hall needs to work with us,” said Michelle Ingram, founder and owner of Zeus’ Place, a 16-year-old pet grooming business on Freret Street, and co-founder of the Freret Market. “We’re bringing them tax money that’s going to keep the city going. We’re not a burden. I think it would be so much easier if there were more online options, less showing up to City Hall in person, and if permit applications were streamlined.”
One finding of the study is that business owners want to remedy the challenge of ineffective communication when systems are down during hurricanes. In response, StayLocal will host a two-way text communication system for business owners. The new system will enable businesses to share information about their status, including temporarily revised hours of operation or location, as well as goods and services they can provide to sheltering citizens, and ways to collaborate business-to-business to improve reopening times for businesses.
Despite the challenges, local businesses remain cautiously optimistic that a more user-friendly City Hall is possible, and that with better communication and more streamlined processes in place, prospects for their business in New Orleans are bright.
“I’d like to bring in global manufacturers to the city of New Orleans to show them an example of a city that is designed and built better. A city with long-term sustainability, and a city that has thought about what it means to be a business owner,” said Josh Loeske, CEO of QSM, a Kenner-based construction product supplier.
StayLocal plans to share report findings with city and regional agencies in the hopes of improving coordination.
Founded in 2003 by the Urban Conservancy, StayLocal is a city-wide initiative to create a strong economy based on locally owned and operated business.
Dana Eness is the executive director of the Urban Conservancy. Maryann Miller is the StayLocal New Orleans program manager.