Op-Ed: New Orleans has ingredients to be epicenter of industrial, energy innovation

By: CityBusiness Guest Perspective
October 19, 2016

In a recent presentation about the significance of innovation for the industrials sector, I was reminded of why we, the New Orleans’ business community, must focus on making our city the epicenter for innovation in industrials and energy.

Why innovation? Because the future is and has always been the ability to innovate and adapt to grow an industry, a company or even a community. Innovation for industrials and energy includes emerging technologies that focus on automaton / drones, big data, energy storage, advanced materials and many other areas. Moreover, technology-based economic development through innovation stands as one of the best ways to transform local economies and create new job opportunities with meaningful wages and salaries.

San Francisco and other cities/regions have focused on their core economic and industry assets to bolster their local economies and create entrepreneurial driven eco-systems. Put simply, other cities relied upon the core local industries, intellectual capital and labor skills that were readily available in their respective areas.

Take Silicon Valley as an example. The focus on technology was a natural evolution from the massive infrastructure, which included universities in “The Valley” focused developing the information technology industry, the skilled labor pool, venture capital and Department of Defense spending.

For us, the path is simple. We have the key ingredients of an innovation-driven ecosystem focused on industrials and energy. We are the gateway to every major industry in the United States, including energy, manufacturing, maritime, agribusiness and chemicals. These sectors represent over 50 percent of our state’s GDP. Moreover, new ideas and companies focused on these sectors can leverage the expertise and resources of our business community, universities, companies and local investors.

Needless to say, we have some of the best companies in each of these industries with operations in Louisiana. They include Chevron, Shell, BP, Dow, Hornbeck, IntraLox, Canal Barge, Air Liquide, ConAgra Lamb Weston and many others focused on our core industries. As well, our universities and research labs stand ready to support innovation, including NASA’s Stennis Space Center, LSU, Tulane, Loyola, the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, the Louisiana Business & Technology Center and other institutions throughout our state. Lastly, we have organizations – such as GNO, Inc., The Business Council and many others – keenly focused on enhancing the prosperity of our city and its citizens.

We also have a strong and deeply skilled labor pool that has centuries of experience in industrials. In short, Louisiana knows how to build, grow, power and transport anything. Throughout our history, the citizens of New Orleans, our lifeblood, have had an unparalleled ability to innovate and create economic opportunities. A great example is how New Orleans-based Laitram and its subsidiaries sprung from James Martial Lapeyre’s commitment to innovation that has revolutionized manufacturing.

Needless to say, we have the inherent DNA to grow, transform and succeed, as demonstrated by our dynamic recovery from Hurricane Katrina. We are a global gateway for every industrial sector. This is the right time, and New Orleans is the right place, to be the epicenter for innovation in industrials and energy.

Hank Torbert is a private equity investor and entrepreneur-in-residence for ENERGYx, a New Orleans-based business accelerator for oil and gas startups.

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