Report: N. O. Business Owners Cautiously Optimistic Despite Challenges – Biz New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS — From StayLocal:

Despite enormous challenges, including the COVID pandemic and the devastation of Hurricane Ida and other major storms over the past two years, New Orleans’ local independent 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 focus group conducted earlier this year with owners of restaurant, retail and service-oriented businesses of varying ages and sizes. Research was conducted collaboratively with University of New Orleans’ research professor of sociology emerita Pam Jenkins.  

Staylocal Logo “The report collected meaningful information on business owners’ pain points and hopes when planning for the future. This will help StayLocal provide the most appropriate support to our local businesses moving forward, ” said StayLocal program manager Maryann Miller.

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, ” says Crazy Waffle Bar owner Sinnidra Taylor. “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, ” says 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 Corridor 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, their businesses’ prospects 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, ” says Josh Loeske, CEO of QSM, a Kenner-based construction product supplier.

StayLocal’s Miller says the nonprofit plans to share report findings with city plus regional agencies in the hopes associated with 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.  

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