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Bridging the Digital Divide

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GNO, Inc. helps three cutting-edge companies open offices in New Orleans

gnoA homegrown story emanating from New Orleans has drawn featured coverage from CNN, The Economist, Entrepreneur magazine, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal—all in the past six months.

Think it’s the spectacular run of the Saints that has some of the nation’s most authoritative media outlets scrambling to send writers on assignment to the Big Easy? Guess again. It’s the remarkable transformation of post-Katrina New Orleans from standing floodwater to a burgeoning entrepreneurial hub for creative and digital media companies.

Building on the momentum that inspired Entrepreneur magazine to praise New Orleans as a “blueprint for economic recovery” in 2009, Greater New Orleans, Inc. has worked with local partners to secure three more business expansions to the region. Los Angeles–based Graphite, Manhattan-based Orphmedia and Baton Rouge–based RallyPoint have all established offices here.

While GNO, Inc. continues to focus on fundamental sectors like trade and energy, these three firms collectively reflect the organization’s additional effort to diversify the region’s economy into creative and digital media. “The New Orleans region is uniquely positioned to attract creative professionals,” says GNO, Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht. “With our combination of rich culture, inexpensive business conditions and best-in-class incentives, Greater New Orleans is evolving into a creative, professional hub that will soon be competing with—and beating—places like Austin, Seattle and Montreal. The result will not only be more, better jobs, but also an infusion of fresh talent and energy for the region.”

Graphite is a full-service brand strategy and design agency with a prestigious client list, including Nike, Red Bull and Incase. Co-founder and creative principal Andy Rosenthal sees great business potential in New Orleans and is excited to contribute to the region’s entrepreneurial growth. “Many people, especially entrepreneurs and cultural creatives, are coming to New Orleans because it offers an ideal blend of creativity, inspiration, opportunity and quality of life—unlike anywhere else in the country right now,” he says. “As a native Californian with a company based in Los Angeles and clientele on both the East and West coasts, New Orleans is an optimal location for our growing agency.”

Orphmedia specializes in providing custom Web design and online marketing strategies for restaurants. Based in Manhattan, with operations in Los Angeles, the firm works with businesses both large and small and touts top chefs such as Bobby Flay, Kent Rathbun, Michael Mina and Wolfgang Puck among some of its best-known clients. Peter Orphanos, the firm’s founder, has an ambitious vision for his business in New Orleans. “With more restaurants and chefs than ever before, New Orleans, in our opinion, has become the premier culinary capital of the South,” he says. But the city’s storied restaurant scene was not the sole reason for the firm’s expansion. Orphanos has taken note of New Orleans’ efforts to build anew, and like so many other creative professionals who have descended upon the region, he wanted to become involved in the city’s rebirth. “New Orleans has demonstrated its determination to grow and create a new bright future for itself,” says Orphanos, “and Orphmedia wants to be a part of that.”

RallyPoint is a crisis communications and workforce continuity provider. Drawing upon lessons learned in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the company works with clients to ensure secure, uninterrupted communication at all levels of an organization in times of crisis and disaster. Claude Bethea, founder and CEO of RallyPoint, sees the New Orleans region as an ideal fit for his business. “The need for better methods of communication and organization of information between public and private entities before, during and after a disaster is quite evident, and what better place to build our company than in a city with such a great need,” he says. The firm is also the first member of GNO, Thinc, a new offering of GNO, Inc. to provide competitively priced Class A office space for firms exploring a move to the region. According to Bethea, GNO, Thinc has been instrumental in facilitating the company’s expansion: “GNO, Thinc has been a blessing for us as we move forward in protecting and serving the greatest city in Louisiana.”

The arrival of the three firms highlights the rapidly emerging creative and digital media presence in New Orleans. As co-founder and chairman of Trumpet, a New Orleans branding agency that also launches start-ups through its ventures unit, Robbie Vitrano has helped drive the new entrepreneurial culture of the region. “Wynton Marsalis famously said that New Orleans is ‘where elegance met an undefined wildness to encourage the flowering of creative intelligence.’ Our creative culture—that gave birth to a signature cuisine, architecture, music and an unmistakable celebration of humanity—perhaps in the context of the last four years, perhaps for the first time, is being fully optimized as an economic multiplier,” he says. Vitrano, who also co-chairs GNO, Inc.’s Creative Media Sector, believes that the significance of continued development in  New Orleans’ creative and digital media industries stretches beyond the region: “The capital and emotional investment by these creative industry firms is validating New Orleans as an innovation laboratory in a national and global economy seeking reinvention.”