May 8, 2020 6:00am

Full recovery from coronavirus pandemic to take more than six months, New Orleans area leaders say

Almost one third of survey respondents say region will be in same shape as now - or worse - come November

Photo of Drew Broach
New Orleans, LA Correspondent

Wishing doesn’t make it so.

While most everyone hopes the New Orlean region will fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic within six months, hardly any of the local thought leaders who responded to this week’s Power Poll foresee it happening that fast. Three quarters of the respondents said the pandemic is hurting their business, and almost one third said the region will be in the same shape as now - or worse - come November.

The key to recovery? A COVID-19 vaccine, several survey respondents said.

“A vaccine will let the ‘horse out of the gate,’ said Ray Seamon, partner at Benefits One. “Until such time, the fear of exposure will continue to slow our retail and hospitality economy. Online sales will continue to escalate, and traditional business meetings will convert to virtual.”

“Until we can get a vaccine and provide the public with comfort in large gatherings, it will be hard to resume … normal operations,” said Todd Matherne, chief executive officer of Renaissance Publishing, home of New Orleans Magazine and other titles.

“I hope that six months from now the virus will have been brought under control, we have an effective vaccine in hand and there is no round two of the virus in the fall,” lawyer William Aaron said. “If there is a serious round two of the virus in the fall, all bets are off.”

So, what is the timeline?

“I expect the recovery to last between three to five years and won't start to any great extent until a vaccine is developed,” said Larry Katz, a Republican Party activist who owns the Dots Diner restaurants.

New Orleans Power Poll surveyed 353 influential people online from Monday to Thursday. Responses were received from 74 movers and shakers, or 21 percent.

The survey was conducted in the wake of surging unemployment claims, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans declaring bankruptcy and half the members of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association saying they expect to do the same - all at least in part because of the pandemic. Bars are closed, museums shuttered, offices dark, churches empty and musicians gigless. 

More than half of Power Poll respondents said the pandemic and related government restrictions on crowds and commerce have “negatively” affected their business, and another 22 percent answered “very negatively.” Twelve reported no effect, and only six reported a positive or very positive effect.

One was Ronnie Slone, whose Slone Group usually relies on face-to-face meetings for organizational development and training.

“Because our greatest impact is during F2F interactions, we have had to pivot to virtual offerings. This has been good for our business,” Slone said. “The comfort level of the public will dictate the pace of a full recovery. A vaccine will help drive this!”

In assessing the region six months from now, two thirds expressed optimism, saying it will have “somewhat recovered.” Only one respondent predicted a “complete” recovery in six months, and 23 foresaw no change from now or a region in worse shape than at present.

Keith Esparros, WWL television news director, tried to map the steps: “The economy will soon begin a very slow ramp up. Businesses will open with restrictions, but the question remains: Will anyone go. Restaurants, clubs, bars will find out if it makes sense to operate at a fraction of their capacity. Advertisers will start to return, but retailers may find customers trickling in, and they'll also have to decide how many of their laid off workers it makes sense to bring back. Conventions are all but canceled for the rest of the year, and tourism will suffer throughout the calendar year. [This year] will be an economic write-off, and we can only hope Mardi Gras 2021 can act as a catalyst to bring people back to the city.”

Carroll Suggs, retired chairman and CEO of PHI Inc., saw the need for more than a vaccine.

“I am proud of the leadership in Jefferson Parish for the manner they have dealt with this very challenging event. No doubt the vaccine and the success of the testing will certainly help in the return to whatever normal is going to be! The respect and compliance for the directives by the leadership is going to be key.”

But really, who knows?

“Seems to me we are headed towards a great experiment of attempting creating herd immunity,” said Tony Gelderman, a lawyer and real estate investor. “This isn’t a stated or even purposeful effort; it’s just how various porous pieces of the patchwork ‘stay at home’ will work out in practice. No one really knows what the outcome will be like.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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