Baton Rouge and New Orleans have always regarded each other warily. Many people in Baton Rouge see New Orleans as lascivious, lazy and irresponsible, full of old-money elites taking long lunches and dropping thousands on Mardi Gras balls while their city slides into irrelevance. Many New Orleanians see Baton Rouge as dull, suburban and sprawling, the land of government bureaucrats, tailgating frat boys and chemical plants.
New Orleans often has set itself apart from the rest of the state, whose constitution has long protected the city's special status. In a similar fashion, for much of the rest of the world, New Orleans dominates the view of Louisiana.
When New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the entire state may as well have been underwater, as some national television coverage portrayed it.
In some ways, Katrina brought the two cities closer together out of sheer necessity, as much of New Orleans was uninhabitable. But fears were exposed too, with some Baton Rougeans proving all-too-willing to believe the worst stereotypes about Crescent City thugs wreaking havoc in their fair city.
A BRAF-backed effort to promote the Interstate 10/12 corridor that initially excluded New Orleans may have been well-intended. But it was widely perceived as a Baton Rouge power grab, and folks in New Orleans were not amused. A 2008 Business Report cover story suggested that the rivalry between the two cities was counterproductive to both sides, especially in a world that is rapidly becoming more interconnected.
“At some point, we need to make this a New Orleans-Baton Rouge-Northshore triangle,” LSU economist Jim Richardson said. “We have to be less competitive and more complementary.”
Since 2009, BRAC and Greater New Orleans Inc. have been trying to follow Richardson's advice. The Southeast Super-Region Committee, launched by the two economic development bodies and representing 19 parishes, already claims some credit for legislative efforts to boost LSU's flagship status and incentivize angel investment, as well as a trade mission to Brazil. Its priorities include infrastructure, K-12 education reform and, of course, economic development.
Whether the Super-Region Committee will sustain its efforts over the long term, rather than fizzle like the 10/12 corridor initiative, remains to be seen. Almost half of the state's legislators hail from the super-region, so the potential is there to wield significant power on matters important to the two cities, if the leaders stick together.
But regardless, the world is getting smaller and flatter every day. A businessperson in Baton Rouge can telecommute to New Orleans, Lafayette or Beijing without putting on shoes. In a world like that, the 80-mile difference between Baton Rouge and New Orleans doesn't mean as much as it used to.
James Carville, the political consultant and pundit who now teaches public policy at Tulane University, says young people, such as the educated under-25s now flocking to New Orleans, don't care about the parochialism of the past.
“One of the great things about the younger people in this country,” Carville says, “is they don't allow themselves to be infected by our prejudices.”
CITIES BY THE NUMBERS
| ||Baton Rouge Area||New Orleans Area|
|FORTUNE 1000 FIRMS||2||3|
|SALES TAX||$682 million||$1.1 billion|
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