It's hard to talk about New Orleans' palpable sense of team spirit without sounding like a shameless civic booster, but if you lived here for the before-during-and-after of Hurricane Katrina (as I did) and have come back to see what the city is now compared with what it was just after its near-death experience (as I have), you can tell immediately that something unusual has taken hold. As I write this, I'm sitting in a high tech-centric coworking space called LaunchPad - it's one of three such spaces in the city -- and were it not for today's TEDxNOLA talks being held down in "The Quarters" (many of the LaunchPad members are participating -- more on that soon), this space would be filled with many of the same young professionals who were here yesterday, laboring away on laptops on social entrepreneurship projects with names like DropTheChalk.com, ClosingtheNolaGap.com, and 504ward, and GumboLabs.com.
While the prominence of gainfully self-employed young entrepreneurs wearing geek-chic glasses would be unremarkable in just about any other city of New Orleans' stature, here - in a place where many predicted just five short years ago that the city itself might cease to exist -- it's pretty extraordinary. And when you also consider the fact that the first few waves of feverish technology worship that washed over the country in the last 15 years had pretty much passed over this region -- making it to places as far south as Austin and Atlanta, but never sinking into the Deep South states -- it actually lends some credence to the often overstated claims made in those earlier eras that technology itself could, if not save your very soul, then at least catapult you out of economic stagnation. Local government here are trying to encourage that thinking as well, offering generous tax credits to tech startups.
It's still unclear what kind of real impact all this will have on New Orleans, and whether the city will be able to retain those recently drawn here and fulfill the long-held promise of becoming more like the more economically stable but still musically enriched Austin. But as Peter Bodenheimer--one of the TEDxNOLA organizers and a longtime techie who spent time in the dotcom trenches in Boston and San Francisco before returning home to the city he loves--put it: 'Now, when I go to a birthday party of some friend that I grew up with, I meet people that I don't already know, from all over, who have moved here to do the kind of work that I don't think they could have before. And I love that."