Sunday, September 28, 2008


504ward Promotional Film from Benjamin Reece on Vimeo.

A buddy of mine, Mark Martin and I are in the above video as well as some other young professionals in New Orleans.

Competition Looks To Keep Youth In N.O. PDF Print E-mail

NEW ORLEANS -- Business leaders are launching a competition aimed at trying to keep 23- to 35-year-olds who came to the city to help rebuild it after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans longterm.

The competition, part of a new initiative called "504ward," a play on New Orleans' area code, offers a package worth more than $200,000 _ including cash and professional services _ for the winning idea, according to The Idea Village, an economic development group that invests in local entrepreneurs.

"There are so many challenges in New Orleans," said Tim Williamson, the group's president.

Those who are smart and have drive can rise to lofty positions _ in business and elsewhere _ at a relatively young age now, he said. "Those folks don't have the historical baggage of what was; they look at how it can be."

Applicants must meet certain criteria, including being a for-profit with "high potential" for long-term sustainability and demonstrated ability to hold onto that prized demographic. Just what they propose _ and how broad their reach may ultimately be _ remains to be seen.

Pitches for the initial round must be submitted by Dec. 4 and can be made on YouTube. There will be three rounds, with five finalists brought here in March.

After Katrina hit in August 2005, volunteers flocked to the region to help with relief and recovery work, such as house gutting. The city was billed as providing Peace Corps-type opportunities for younger people, and idealists of any age, interested in helping rebuild a major U.S. city and key institutions, like the public education system, flawed before the storm.

Younger people came; there's evidence of that in the new teachers in the state-run Recovery School District and within city or redevelopment agencies.

But some new-recruit teachers and fellows are with finite commitments, like two years. Keeping them beyond that is a trick for a tourist-dependent city still faced with violent crime and limited health care and in the midst of efforts to tap into the green revolution and otherwise diversify the economy.

504ward plans a Web site to act as a networking hub, plus a mentoring-style program to link younger and older professionals and bring them into the business fold.

Greg Rigamer, a demographer who's closely tracked post-Katrina New Orleans, said he'd expect young people moving to the city to register to vote if they're committed to the area longterm and that he hasn't seen "any blip" in voter registration rolls relative to pre-Katrina to signal a major influx of such newcomers.

"What we really have to do is build a sustainable economy," he said. "That's what keeps people here."

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