Notes from the CEO

Notes from New Orleans … a Study Mission Wrap Up

Five Star Bank’s Mike Rizzo joined the Sacramento Metro Chamber on their trip last week to New Orleans as part of the annual Study Mission program. Below is his recap of the trip.  

What will be Sacramento’s catalytic moment? Katrina was the catalytic moment for New Orleans. The city had seen declining population since the 60s. Today’s population is only about 450,000. It also had one of the poorest populations in the nation and an education system that was failing. Cronyism and systemic political corruption was rampant.  

Abandoned House in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward

Katrina wiped the slate clean in 2005.  Human capital and financial capital poured into the city. The people who had become so reliant on their government were pushed to make change when their government failed them. Seems that nobody knows exactly how much money poured in, but amounts between $40 Billion to $100 Billion were referenced, of which New Orleans received most … a lot of money by any measure.

People had the option to rebuild with a goal of bringing things back to the way they had always been (easy to do in a city so proud of their culture and place in history) or use the money to make change. They chose the latter. Talented community leaders as well as talented leaders from throughout the country and the world converged on New Orleans.

Still a work in progress, great strides have been made. The levees have been repaired, government has been restructured (to a degree), and the education system is completely restructured (70% of elementary schools are now charter schools with a goal of having 100% charter schools). Entrepreneurs are engaged and have attained business success as well as the support network necessary for their success including venture capital. They’ve created a bio wet lab to incubate and commercialize TWO research universities – Tulane and Louisiana State University.

View From a Balcony on Bourbon Street

Perhaps most striking to me was the spirit and sense of pride of the people of New Orleans, evident in the fact that a city of only 450,000 can support two major professional athletic franchises – the Saints and the Hornets AND that EVERYONE knows the selling points for their city … so they can talk with ANYONE about why you should relocate there.

I have to admit, before going to New Orleans, I was not terribly excited about our pick of cities. Over the last four days, it was easy to see why it’s no longer the Big Easy. Today, they get things done with a sense of urgency I have not witnessed before.

And there’s still the French Quarter…

What is Sacramento’s catalytic moment? If it’s not this recession I don’t know.

Mike Rizzo
Senior Vice President
Commercial and Emerging Business Banking

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