Our people are our competitive advantage

As places go, New Orleans is as unique as any city there is. While some places may tout their economic prosperity, corporate presence and physical attributes, nothing they have is better than our people. Our people have a unique culture unlike any other people anywhere in the world.

This unique connection between people and culture is our competitive advantage. But this advantage has not received the rightful attention it deserves. Instead of building on this advantage, we try to make New Orleans more like other cities. The whole time we forget they wish they were us. And yes, there are some great cities in this country. But their people don’t have our history and our flavor.

This advantage is rooted in its people from Dubreuil Street to Monticello and English Turn to the Lake Front, and everywhere in between. If you have traveled or worked in other cities, you know exactly what I mean. It’s safe to say that no city can match our authenticity. Particularly, people born and raised here but also those who adopted our culture as a way of life. Tested by time, they remain committed to this wonderful, grimy, glorious place.

Our people are our competitive advantage

Some newcomers enter the city and want to change things. But the food, the music, and the culture continue to give us a competitive advantage.  Keeping this competitive advantage strong  is critical now as the city faces difficulties.

Some nice cities, or should I say New Orleans counterpart cities (Houston, Memphis, Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte) might be economically stronger. But they don’t come close to matching the authenticity of our people or the soulful rhythms that make us different.

Unfortunately, many take for granted the importance of a simple, “How you doing today Baby” or looking you in your face and speaking to you as you walk by. Or, striking up a conversation with a stranger with passion that makes them feel at home. And, last but not least, the experience of resiliency expressed through a second line.  Our culture bearers work to keep the culture strong despite the challenges facing the city.

For example, in most places you will be lucky if someone acknowledges your presence. It’s usually a cold or less than welcoming experience. But in New Orleans, it does not matter your social or economic status. You feel the sense of belonging from the people of New Orleans. It’s what holds the city together and what gives people hope for a brighter future despite our challenges.

Our people are our competitive advantage

Of course, many outside of New Orleans don’t understand this real and significant difference. They pay more attention to the bricks and mortar of their cities. But our soul is the culture that resides in  our people. For me, having grown up in New Orleans and experiencing people in other cities across the United States and the world, I can say with absolute confidence that New Orleans has some of the best people living and working anywhere in the world.

We are the great people who serve the world this thing we call New Orleans. But there is  all kinds political maneuvering, and capitalism posturing, and blatant efforts to diminish us. Instead, now is the time we recognize us. We must lead with “The People”

The people of New Orleans withstood just about every challenge socially, economically, and physically and we still stand tall. No matter where they are, people of New Orleans long for the feeling of what it means to be New Orleanian. And if gone, we miss how that makes us feel.

So, with the people as the city’s competitive advantage to build upon, what do we need to do on behalf of this great resilient population? The other question to be answered is how do we honor the people for their unwavering support of New Orleans?

Our people are our competitive advantage

At its core we owe them leadership at every community and institutional level. Leadership that puts them in front of self-serving politics and corporate greed. Leadership that captures the spirit of the people as motivation to make our city a place they want and deserve. So that we’re no longer a cultural mecca in spite of, but we’re great because we consider our people first.

You read and hear about our challenges day in and day out. No need to rehash them here. However, one thing is clear, something has to change. And it needs to change fast if New Orleans stands a chance to compete against its rival cities.

Using a football analogy. Its fourth down and ten yards to go to score. As a community our playbook has consisted of running on first down, second down and third down without making progress. Everybody knows we will need to  pass on 4th down. But we keep running the same play without scoring. We never give the ball to the people. If the same playbook is historically followed, we will bring together political interests, and corporate interests, and members of the caste system that have historically run this city and state. And the people will be an afterthought again. We will run the ball right up the middle into an eight man front and lose yardage.

Instead of running that play again. Let’s open the huddle to the community. Let them help call the play. A play that will benefit them. Let the people call a play that helps us out maneuver a serious defense the city has been up against (lingering social and economic challenges and static politics) for far too long.

Our people are our competitive advantage

Yeah! Let the people quarterback and call an audible that doesn’t blame the political system or the corporate structure that’s more worried about who’s elected than making sure our people are selected.

As a community we can’t continue to run the same plays over and over and expect to score. The city needs champions. We need  players driven by a collective thought who are prepared to implement a different playbook. Players who faced failure and defeat. Players who can relate to the decades long struggles of New Orleans yet have the fortitude to lead on behalf of what I consider the best people of any American city or anywhere in the world.

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We owe it to them to explore economic development strategies aligned with the needs of its people. We owe it to them to explore creativity and innovation in housing. And we owe it to them to create a safe city. And finally, we owe it to them to create an opportunity city for all its citizens not just a few. It’s their turn!

Of course, this is easier said than done. A new playbook requires the ability to put self-interest aside for the greater good. New plays focused collectively on one singular goal. To see the people of New Orleans win.

We owe it to the past and present citizens who have made New Orleans unique. A different set of plays are required if we really want social and economic progress.

Our people are our competitive advantage

We owe it to the future generations to carry the torch of authenticity. But now it’s time to put that torch in some different hands. The People’s! After all they’re the glue that keeps us relevant anyway!

What do we have to lose  by trying?

Oliver M. Thomas Jr.

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