Young Professionals Find Opportunity in Devastated City

By Craig Guillot

Nov. 13, 2007

While Katrina’s devastation may have driven many workers out of the city, some are actually finding opportunity amid the rubble. With an abundance of entry-level and professional administrative positions to be filled, some recent college graduates and adventurous Gen Xers see New Orleans as a new frontier of opportunity. Tom Pyburn, president of the Human Resource Management Association of Greater New Orleans, says that many young professionals are coming to the city out of a sense of adventure or social responsibility.

“A lot of them know that it is rough now, but it’s a good time to get their foot in and really go places in the next five years or so,” Pyburn says.

Richard Campanella, associate director for geographical analysis at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane University, estimates that between 2,000 and 3,000 young professionals have moved to the city since Katrina struck the city. His research was based on the 2006 Louisiana Health and Population Survey, which found that 7,042 respondents living in Orleans Parish between June and October 2006 said that they “changed their residence due to job opportunities. Some human resource directors say the true number of newly arrived professionals may be even higher.

“While we don’t have specific numbers on it, it is a significant trend that one encounters a fair number of newly arrived young professionals working in fields that relate to post-Katrina circumstances,” Campanella says.

Rebecca Zabel, a young attorney from South Carolina, came to the city in May 2006 to take a job with the firm Phelps Dunbar. She graduated from the Tulane University School of Law in 2004 and returned to the city for the opportunities and a chance to help in the rebuilding.

“I think there is a lot here for young professionals in particular. The fact that so many people left has created a lot of opportunities,” Zabel says.

Across town at Ochsner Hospital is director of reimbursement Tim Vanderford. He and his wife moved from Seattle to New Orleans in August 2006. Partly out of adventure, partly out of a desire to help out the city, they’re quickly settling into their uptown neighborhood and find great opportunities here.

“We wanted to come down here because we wanted to get in on the ground floor of building something back up. It just makes you feel whole and good to be able to get here and build things back again,” Vanderford says.

Professionals are being attracted not just to the array of open positions, but also to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild an entire American city. Barbara Johnson, senior vice president of workforce and area development for GNO Inc., a public/private economic development group, says that the “brain gain” is especially being felt in the education system, health care delivery, urban planning, coastal restoration and real estate development.

“There is a major draw to be a part of the rebuilding and to cut your teeth—establish a beachhead, develop your résumé,” Johnson says. “We’re seeing some incredible talent being attracted to this region.”

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