It’s official! I’m moving to New Orleans.
I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in.
Word has slowly been leaking this week as I reached out to friends in New Orleans to start looking for housing for me and to keep their eyes and ears open. And for those who know me or have been following my journey for any part of this year, you’re no stranger to that fact that I loved New Orleans since the moment I first stepped foot there in 2002, but if that was lust, than the true love came this past spring when post SXSW, I drove there to spend two months volunteering and giving back.
Little did I know that I would arrive with a tweet-up in my honor. That I would meet and come to be friends with some of the most amazing people I have every met, that I would be taken in and “shown the ropes” and that at the end of the two months not only would I have learned to eat crawfish and have a crawfish boil in my honor but that I would feel like I wasn’t just leaving another stop on my journey, but I was leaving someplace that I deeply, one day, wanted to call home.
Let’s start with the KNOWNS. I’m arriving on December 1st and am going to dive head-first into finding housing.
UNKNOWNS? Exactly what, professionally, I’ll be doing. To that extent, I am in talks about a few exciting consulting projects from around the country, there are a few job leads there that I think look very compelling and interesting and I have social entrepreneurial goals of my own that I’m looking to develop and move forward. More on all of this, but if you have any ideas for me or things makes you go hmmm, then definitely reach out and say hello.
I know some people might say – but moving from Los Angeles? How will New Orleans ever compare? Let me say this, in moving this time, I’ve realized there are three things really important to me in my choice on where to live.
1) Quality of Life
2) Strong Sense of Community
3) Social entrepreneurial and social impact environment where I feel I can make a difference
New Orleans has all of those. Young professionals can afford to buy a home, it’s a multi-generational city where the fabric of the community is incredibly strong, people take care of each other, support each other and know their neighbors. Not many cities that you live in and they refer to the city as a person. But, New Orleans? Wow, she’s takes you for a spin because some things are amazing and bright and shiny and then there are things that are broken. Horribly, terribly broken. But underneath those layers are startups, established businesses and community leaders driven and passionate to take New Orleans to the next level, and I for one, can’t wait to join them.
I’m not alone. Let me show you some of the recent buzz the Big Easy has gotten:
- Fast Company named New Orleans one of their “Fast Cities” for 2009 (May 2009)
- Entrepreneur Magazine wrote about the new entrepreneurial culture taking over in New Orleans (August 2009)
- The New York Times wrote about the wave of optimism that entrepreneurs have in New Orleans.
Let’s talk local. New Orleans’s weekly paper, The Gambit, recently released their “Top 40 under 40″ list. Taking a look through that list I knew 5 of them off the bat from spending just two months in town earlier this year. This list is just a glimpse of what the future of New Orleans looks like. It’s a strong sense of New Orleanians and intellectual immigrants (credit Allen Eskew) coming together and fighting for change in New Orleans.
Entrepreneurial role models? Companies hustling and crushing it right now? Look no further than homegrown Naked Pizza, FeelGoodz and NOLA Brewing Company for up and coming businesses not only started by locals, employing locals, but building their companies in sustainable and ethical ways with social impact measures in place on how they are helping the community.
Nonprofit role models? It’s no coincidence that last year’s CNN Hero of the Year went to the St. Bernard Project or that a finalist for this year’s award is Roots of Music. New Orleans is a hotbed for the type of nonprofits that are making a difference, affecting their community and driving change for the many disenfranchised and under privileged citizens of New Orleans.
Places to work? There are four formal entrepreneurial hubs in New Orleans including: Entrepreneur’s Row, the Icehouse, the I.P., (an acronym for Intellectual Property) and the Entergy Innovation Center. Inside the I.P. is the newly opened first coworking space in New Orleans, LaunchPadNOLA which features in its regular cast of professionals developers, graphic designers, content creators, video producers, a lawyer and a nonprofit. LaunchPad also has a weekly live web show called LPTV where they feature local businesses and there is a lively chat room going on the whole time with banter and support for those being interviewed.
More? Ok, how about the huge recent success of TribeCon, as part of The Voodoo Experience music festival over Halloween weekend. It is a conference about community that brought in Julien Smith (author of Trust Agents) as the keynote with other amazing speakers including Micah Baldwin, Andrew Hyde, Eric Marcoullier, Perry Chen, Brian Oberkirch, Tom Martin and Ted Rheingold to talk about building community. Over 150 people attended and people are already looking forward to the second year of the conference next year being bigger and better. The brainchild of Tiffany Starnes, Adele Tiblier and Chris Schultz, they concocted the idea of a community conference after having their Net Squared group, Net2No, wrap a bus and all attend SXSW 2009 together, not just to promote one business, but to promote New Orleans as a place to start and grow your business.
Want help starting your business? Economic developments agencies like GNO, Inc, and nonprofits like The Idea Village and nonprofits like Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans have incubator and mentorship programs and business plan pitch competitions to help guide you and grow your vision into a sustainable business. Tax credits abound, from starting your business in Louisiana to making angel investments in new businesses there. Film credits make Louisiana one of the most popular places to shoot films in America, while I was in New Orleans this past spring 3 major motion pictures were being filmed there in addition to a HBO show and other smaller scale projects. There is talk of building a new state-of-the-art hospital and Nickelodeon amusement park. Charter schools are able to offer real educational environments for many students who had pre-Katrina been limited to the national epidemic of the decline of public school systems.
Food! A epicurean’s dream is to come to New Orleans and eat everything from the po’boys served at counters around the city (Liuzza’s, Parasols and Parkview Tavern being my favorites) to the fine dining options that abound (Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s, Emeril’s). There is no end to the culinary adventures New Orleans has to offer.
Music! Don’t even know where to start. The jazz, the creole, the zydeco, the blues – all with venues that are legendary and historic and to die for. I don’t forsee myself getting tired of dba, the Maple Leaf, Donna’s, Spotted Cat, Preservation Hall or for my indie music fix One-Eyed Jacks.
Festivals! Did you know there is actually a festival season? Yup there is. It’s technically in the spring and you just haven’t lived until you’ve eaten Crawfish Monica at Jazz Fest. But that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Cause really festivals are all year long. Any time there is a weekend a reason to celebrate, people will come together for what they call a “fest.” French Quarter Fest, Mardi Gras, Voodoo Experience, countless smaller fests happening all the time promoting all the good local music and local food New Orleans has to offer. What struck me the most about New Orleans’ festivals when I was there this spring? The sense of FAMILY. Babies and grandmas are out at the festivals, it’s not just about a small demographic of college-aged kids out there listening to music, it’s everyone. And everyone is having a good time.
Culture! From second lines through the streets to sno-balls lines in the summer, competitions with men and women yelling “STELLA!” as loud as they can in Jackson Square to sitting next at Cafe du Monde with a beignet watching time go by, there is no end to the culture in New Orleans. Or the educational opportunities to find out about it, since New Orleans is home to Tulane University, Loyola University and the University of New Orleans.
Sports! I have two words for you. WHO DAT! The Saints are 9-0 as I write this blog post, a feat not accomplished in a long time and NFL fever is at an all-time high. The Hornets are there. I must admit, I’m a baseball fan, so the lack of a MLB team is tough. But have you ever been to a minor league game? That, my friends, is AMERICA. The prices are low enough to take your whole family and I expect to be at many a Zephyr game. LSU is up the road. Life could be worse.
Ultimately, the strength of New Orleans comes from its spirit. From its resilience. And from it’s strong sense of community that has drawn people there for centuries and will continue to do so. The culture and fabric of New Orleans is the backbone of the culture and fabric of America. New Orleans will celebrate her 300th anniversary in the next decade and I believe that the progress she makes between then and now will set the stage for the future of New Orleans.
I could have shortened this whole piece and just written, “I’m moving to New Orleans ’cause I want to.” But I wanted you to know, that I’ve dug in, I’ve turned over the rocks, I’ve gotten to know the locals, and I’ve put a lot of time and heart into this decision.
I often say I don’t know what the next chapter holds. But it’s been 6 years since I’ve said that in referring to a new city to live in and call home. I’m nervous that New Orleans (and her inhabitants) will continue to love me as much as I love them. Because we’re doing it for real this time, no more talking and wishing and hoping and dreaming. But I’ve got a lot of love, spirit, energy, integrity and heart to give and I truly can’t wait to see what happens.
Let me say it again. I’m moving to New Orleans.
A big smile crosses over my face. This is an early holiday present to myself. Listening to my heart and having the courage to follow through. I know it takes a lifetime to even come close to being called a “New Orleanian” but by god, I’ve never been so excited about anything in my whole life.
For all my friends from around the country (and the world). Yes, you can come visit and stay with me. Once I’m set up of course. Just watch out, cause if the wind is rolling the right way under the large oaks and the smell of crawfish fills the air and the laughter and cheer is hitting you on the back like a long-lost friend and the culture seeps from the sidewalks at every turn and New Orleans bites you in just the right way, your heart will swoon and swell and then she’s got ya. And then you’ll be thinking of her all the time, planning your next trip back, or even one day, you might find yourself writing a letter just like this one, saying, “I’ve finally found a place I can call home.”