That Sinking Feeling: Once-thriving businesses near Avondale Shipyard are now struggling to survive

This article was published in The Times-Picayune on July 24, 2011. 

Darcy Adams can’t believe she used to make enough in tips to go shoe-shopping. She misses those days now.

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With more bills and past-due notices arriving every day, Adams, 49, looks stressed as she lights another cigarette and surveys the bar. It’s happy hour, but with just four men in the place, two poking at billiard balls in the corner and two nursing beers at the bar, the dozens of empty barstools underscore just how dead it really is.

“I can’t sleep at night. I can’t pay my bills. I’m stressing so bad,” said Adams, of Waggaman. “This place used to be packed. Now, I’m lucky if I get 10 customers.”

As the bartender at O’Reilly’s in Bridge City for the past 10 years, Adams is among the hundreds of people in the Avondale Shipyard area who have seen their business plummet in the past year. Since Northrop Grumman announced last July it would close the shipyard by 2013, the yard’s 5,000 workers have been laid off or left to await their fate. The fallout, for the local businesses that rely on their patronage, has been devastating.

“Come 2013, I’ll be 55, unemployed, and unemployable,” said Rob Laborde, 53, who has worked at the shipyard for the past 22 years. “You gotta keep all your money now. You gotta count every dime you got.” Read more of this post

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Small businesses get a lift from bank program

This article was published on July 20, 2011 in The Times-Picayune.  

As a 10-year-old, Malcolm Gibson of New Orleans knew he wanted to be a mortician.

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After being impressed at his grandfather’s funeral by the mortician’s ability to transform the body of someone who looked deathly ill to the way he remembered his grandfather in the best of health, Gibson knew that he would one day help families in much the same way.

“Seeing my poppa look so good helped me cope — it made me feel like he was in a better place,” Gibson said.

So after high school, Gibson went on to mortician school and later founded Professional Funeral Services, a funeral home located in the 7th Ward. He became known for his commitment to families, and his business flourished. But for many years, despite steadily rising revenues, Gibson was still operating deep in the red.

“I knew how to care for families and help them through the grieving process, but I couldn’t organize my business in a way that was sustainable,” said Gibson, now 41. “I’m a funeral director by nature, not an entrepreneur.”
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‘Gentilly is open for business’

Published July 18, 2011 in The Times-Picayune.

Gentilly’s 19 neighborhood associations have been waiting for this kind of attention for a long time.

After years of relatively stagnant recovery since Hurricane Katrina in both repopulation and commercial activity, Gentilly is about to become the focus of several groups hoping to jumpstart the economy in the neighborhood.

Capital One and the Urban League of New Orleans have created the “Grow Gentilly” small business plan competition, in which two companies already in business in Gentilly will win cash prizes, along with technical and professional assistance.

The winning business will receive $10,000 with the runner-up to get $5,000, money that Capital One officials describe as “strategic investments,” Gentilly also has the eye of the NOLA Business Alliance, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s new public-private partnership tasked with economic development. The group has identified Gentilly as a high priority area and is developing a strategy to attract large retail centers there.

“We’ve been asking for people out there to invest in Gentilly,” said David Welch, of the Gentilly Community Improvement Association, the umbrella organization over Gentilly’s 19 neighborhood associations. “We’re trying to get the message out that Gentilly is open for business.”

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Louisiana farmers settle suit on genetically modified rice

This article was published in The Times-Picayune on July 10, 2011.

After years of court battles, Louisiana rice farmers will finally recoup some of their losses stemming from one of the largest genetically modified seed contaminations ever.

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Bayer CropScience, the German biotech conglomerate, agreed last week to pay $750 million in damages to 11,000 rice farmers in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas and Missouri.

The settlement aims to compensate for Bayer’s 2006 accidental leak of a genetically engineered strain of rice into the U.S. rice supply, which rendered billions of dollars’ worth of the crop unfit for export to most countries.

“We lost a lot of money,” said John Owen, a rice farmer in Rayville, who, along with 450 other Louisiana farmers, is seeking damages for the losses his farm suffered, which he values at 15 percent of his annual net revenues. “I think the settlement will be welcomed. I don’t know that it’ll make everyone completely whole, but it’s a step in the right direction. Some farms had to go out of business.”

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