Are the young people who move here staying?
Yes--they're becoming citizens and leaders of New Orleans. I have a bunch working in my office right now. They're moving into government, running for office, starting businesses. And because those jobs are here now, there's a pathway to prosperity, a pipeline to success, through primary and secondary education, from college and tech schools to [knowledge-economy] jobs. You want to train people so that an older, African American woman living in [a new, mixed-income development downtown] can walk down the street and have the job as phlebotomist at the new health center. You've got to train workers on the low scale, the medium scale, and the high scale. The same thing can be true about high schools and colleges.
Violent crime here is 80 percent worse than the national average. Does that put a ceiling on economic growth?
You have to know the difference between the crime rate and the murder rate. For the crime rate, we're number 73 in nation, meaning that major American cities are much less safe than New Orleans is. But the murder rate is 10 times the national average. Both those things are depressors, which is why we're spending so much time working on that. Who's killing, who's being killed, where they are, and how to change that--it's a complicated problem that has provided no easy answers for a long time. We hope, as the police department and the school system get better, and culturally we identify where the problems are, we can change it. But there's no question that it has a negative impact. It should not be a ceiling. It is absolutely possible to change that trajectory. New York did it, Chicago did it to a certain extent, though they're having trouble now.
Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to replace state income and corporate taxes with a flat sales tax, which might discourage tourists who don't want to pay a 15 percent surcharge for food and hotels. Are you bending the governor's ear about this?
I'm not in favor of that proposal. It's not good for the state. What's good for business and good for citizens — rich, middle class, and poor — is a diversified tax structure. In other words, it has sales, property, and income taxes in it with no exemptions and rates that are very low. [Jindal's] proposal is the opposite of that. It adds insult to injury. It's going to impose a heavy regressive burden on the poor, and business will have to pick up bulk of it. That's before you even get to killing the tourist industry, which is a $9 billion industry.
How can you tell whether the gains in the tech and entrepreneur sector are lasting, and will take deep root? These haven't really begun to represent a major share of growth yet.
When Forbes says we're most-improved and best for jobs, when the Wall Street Journal says you're best for business, something's happening. [New Orleans was the most improved metro on the Journal's "Best for Business" list last year, up 44 places from 2010. Forbes ranked Louisiana most-improved on its "Best States for Business" and gave New Orleans the top spot for "America's Brain Magnets," attracting college graduates under 25.] They're looking at objective data on a sea change of how a place operates. U.S. News says Tulane is the most popular school. All this stuff has nothing to do with culture and tourism and food. Now, seven years on, they're beginning to see how change works.