August 29, 2006 08:00 ET

Entrepreneurship Drives Louisiana's Post-Storm Economy

NEW ORLEANS, LA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- August 29, 2006 -- At the one-year mark of Hurricane Katrina, the dialogue over what went wrong continues, as the people of Louisiana's Gulf Coast struggle to assess their future.

It remains crucial to share the progress made by the small business community, the economic foundation for the people of Louisiana. Despite tremendous obstacles, determined individuals are working together to rebuild the state's economy, business by business, and job by job.

Michael Olivier, Louisiana's Secretary of Economic Development, shared this vision with The Idea Village, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide the tools and resources necessary to develop high-growth entrepreneurial ventures in New Orleans. The driving force behind economic recovery and growth would be those courageous souls with determination to rebuild. Business owners had only one choice to survive: tap into their greatest resource, entrepreneurialism.

Olivier provided The Idea Village with $100,000 to try and solve the problem. The Idea Village accepted the challenge and identified the most critical need as immediate relief capital to small business and entrepreneurs in dire need of financial assistance. The Idea Village leveraged the grant to raise over $700,000 in private capital and to provide cash grants and technical assistance to entrepreneurs dedicated to restoring New Orleans.

Below are just a few examples of successful ventures:


Hurricane Guy is an altered business plan for New Line Environmental Systems, an erosion control consulting company. Three to four days after Katrina struck New Orleans, company president Drew Herrington and his team returned with a new mission: provide a desperately-needed service for the community.

An Idea Village grant provided Drew with the resources needed to buy capital equipment and crew trucks. Idea Village also provided the necessary guidance to help him reinvent the business. Hurricane Guy offers "post-hurricane" services such as boarding up houses, emptying refrigerators, insurance negotiations and other evacuation necessities, a welcome innovation for a hurricane-weary town. Drew is also offering free grass hydro-seeding services for community neutral grounds, parks and Katrina Krewe endeavors.


EBONetworks is a diversity media, marketing and recruiting agency. Currently, EBONetworks reaches more than 100,000 professionals across the Southeast, including Houston, Dallas, Memphis, Atlanta, and Tampa.

After the Hurricane, Mark Anthony saw the desperate need for connections between business owners and potential employees for executive level positions. The Idea Village gave him a grant to create a database that matches employers with job-seekers.

Anthony also launched a new business, Mark Anthony Building Solutions, a minority-owned and operated modular development firm that provides cost-effective, permanent housing solutions and was also backed by The Idea Village.

Anthony is an active entrepreneur who represented small businesses on the Mayor's Post-Katrina Bring New Orleans Back Commission and serves on the Habitat for Humanity Board.


The Movers began in New Orleans in 2003 and have become fast-rising stars on the national kids' music scene. In concert, the Movers teach high-energy dances, play games with the audience and make music on their one-of-a-kind trashcan drum set. Their production facility was destroyed in the storm, along with the audience base for their local concert circuit.

The Idea Village provided a grant of $5,000, helping the Movers restore their operations and launch a new CD, "Eight Feet," with songs that provide a connection and a symbol of hope for children displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Now, the Movers have signed a deal with Disney and these New Orleans heroes will soon have their own television show and action figures that celebrate their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.


Loretta Harrison, founder of Loretta's Authentic Pralines, was the first African American woman to successfully own and operate her own praline company in New Orleans. Loretta's Authentic Pralines began 22 years ago with $700 in capital and a dream to take a family recipe and try to sell it publicly at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Since then, the business has grown to employ 15 people at two separate locations.

After Hurricane Katrina nearly devastated this dream, The Idea Village gave Loretta a grant to help buy packaging and Christmas wrapping for Loretta's holiday sales. Today, Loretta sends her Authentic Pralines to individuals and companies throughout the country. Businesses as far as New York and Los Angeles have shown their commitment to Loretta and to New Orleans by ordering pralines from her website.


Michael Murphy, president of a multi-media production company, spent five years making a film about New Orleans jazz music. The film, "Make it Funky," was signed by Sony and scheduled for public release the last weekend in August 2005. After the storm, Sony pulled the film as it appeared exploitative during such a tumultuous time. Nearing bankruptcy and growing disillusioned in the aftermath of the storm, Michael contacted The Idea Village and was awarded a grant to get his business back on its feet.

"The grant allowed me to refocus and re-energize," Michael says, "I was motivated to continue doing what I love and use the devastation of the storm as inspiration for my work."

Michael used iconic images of New Orleans music to show how the storm impacted the music industry. The resulting success inspired a relationship with Microsoft, which culminated in a film at Jazz Fest that was streamed live around the world.

Furthermore, Sony will release "Make it Funky" in 12 - 15 cities nationwide on the anniversary of Katrina to remind the country why New Orleans remains such an important cultural institution.

THE SAVVY GOURMET, Peter Menge & Aaron Wolfson (

The Savvy Gourmet is a catering business that opened a recreational cooking school two weeks before the storm. The hurricane devastated the customer base and remaining residents were forced to re-allocate their disposable income.

The Idea Village gave Savvy Gourmet a grant to restore operations and provided strategic counseling on how to redevelop their business model to meet the needs of the community. Peter Menge and Aaron Wolfson, brave entrepreneurs who refused to let the storm stand in the way of their dreams, began driving in from Baton Rouge every morning at 4am to beat the traffic and restore their beautiful facility.

Aaron and Peter borrowed tables and chairs, drove food in from Baton Rouge, and, together with displaced chefs, used their facility to open a restaurant on October 11th. The unexpected restaurant provided food and a social outlet for the other courageous souls who returned to New Orleans after the storm. Savvy Gourmet even hosted weekly "devacuation parties" for crowds as large as 200.

Now, a business that once intended to rely on tourism and culinary experts, has become a local favorite that bustles with the New Orleans community. Savvy Gourmet has expanded its product line further in teaming up with the Contemporary Arts Center to host "Savvy Kids," cooking classes for children.

This is just a sampling of companies that have weathered the storm and are committed to rebuild Southeast Louisiana's economy. If you're interested in interviewing any of the above companies, or in covering Louisiana's economic development progress in general, please contact Tracey Foster at DCI at (212) 725-0707 or at

Contact Information

  • Contact:
    Tracey Foster
    Development Counsellors International (DCI)
    212-725-0707 ext. 119
    Email Contact