Working Toward a More Equitable Recovery

Sixteen years after being shut out of Katrina recovery work, local BIPOC-owned businesses need to be part of our post-Ida build back.

New Orleans is no stranger to disaster, but the people of New Orleans have always stepped up in the face of disaster, immediately providing relief, mutual aid and recovery to neighbors when help seemed so far away.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Black-owned companies were ready to assist in rebuilding their communities, but only received 1.5% of contracts in storm recovery work, despite over $100 billion in property damage largely due to catastrophic flooding. In contrast, large, non-local and non-Black contractors were afforded the opportunity to lead in post-Katrina rebuilding. This disparity impacting Black contractors inspired the collaborative effort to elevate Black-owned companies who are now, over 16 years later, working in response to damages from Hurricane Ida.

Together, Propeller, ThriveNOLA, New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce, New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA), and The Collaborative compiled a working list of local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) contractors ready to serve in post-Hurricane Ida recovery. Our organizations shared a desire to locate, gather and promote BIPOC small business contractors in the Greater New Orleans area and connect them with individuals, homeowners, organizations and corporations also aiming to prioritize BIPOC-owned businesses. To see equitable recovery in our city, we must be intentional about implementing equitable practices, and that includes allowing for local efforts to take the forefront and giving existing Black-owned companies the opportunity to lead in recovery.

Contributing to this equitable recovery is a client and friend of several organizations — Chester Williams of Chester Electric, who is eager to provide services to his community.

“I’m glad to be on the list and glad to be able to help people recover from damages from Hurricane Ida,” Williams said. “I haven’t done a single Ida-related job yet. Being on this list will definitely help. I’m happy to have such a special relationship with Propeller that has helped me to further grow my business and to support people.”

This compiled list elevates the profiles of local BIPOC contractors not only in storm recovery, but for all local construction, electrical, equipment and plumbing needs. We hope that in promoting and supporting these services, our community recognizes the importance of supporting Black businesses, not just in response to disaster, but on a regular basis. This is how we support New Orleans and a more equitable business ecosystem.

Propeller and Thrive are also like-minded partners in the inclusive entrepreneurship and green infrastructure space. We have a history of working together to achieve outcomes for Black entrepreneurs in New Orleans, from our work mobilizing capital to BIPOC entrepreneurs statewide to building the pipeline of BIPOC-owned green infrastructure companies to take advantage of the millions of dollars in green infrastructure work. Our collective work has resulted in 54 ventures receiving PPP loans in 2020 totaling $1,378,025; 39 ventures receiving PPP loans in 2021 totaling $501,260; 44 ventures receiving $1,890,600 in EIDL loans in 2020; and 5 Propeller Alumni ventures receiving $153,732 in Restaurant Revitalization grants. In the first 36 hours of announcing this program for BIPOC entrepreneurs, we received 100 requests for support online through our intake system.

The city of New Orleans began releasing $159 million in green infrastructure construction contract opportunities in December 2021. Through Thrive’s Green Academy, workforce training programs and Propeller’s PitchNOLA: Water and Water Accelerator, together, we are well-positioned to ensure a greater number and percentage of BIPOC entrepreneurs compete successfully to win these contracts.

 

Andrea Chen is the CEO of Propeller, where she oversees the Propeller team, operations and strategic direction. Chuck Morse is a management executive and consultant with more than 20 years of experience in business development, marketing, strategy, government relations and community engagement. He currently serves as executive director of ThriveNOLA.