As magnificent as the Super Bowl win was for the Saints on Sunday, as big a victory has been scored for New Orleans in its recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Today, its unemployment is 6.8 percent, well below the nation’s average of nearly 10 percent and other cities its size. New Orleans is about the size of Wichita, at 336,000 population. All Kansas cities beat the national average of unemployment, though Wichita tops the state’s charts at 7.6 percent. Allen County is hanging in there at 6.9 percent.
After Katrina, people and their businesses fled the Big Easy. Unemployment skyrocketed to 17 percent.
Two schools of thought ran post-Katrina.
* Give it up. The levee system can never be built to withstand massive flooding, plus erosion along the Mississippi has made it increasingly vulnerable to storm surges. Investing in a catastrophe-prone area is not a sound business strategy.
* We’re here to stay, no matter what.
Needless to say, the latter attitude prevailed and the success of the city has given even the most doubtful of Thomases pause to witness what can be done, yes, with a massive infusion of federal dollars, but also with that essential can-do philosophy.
New Orleans residents use the turnaround of the Saints — once referred to as the Aints — as a symbol of the city’s resurgence and as an example for other communities to follow.
“We know you have problems out there,” said radio talk show host Garland Robinette on the NewsHour TV program. “A lot of you are unemployed. You are fearful…
“Nobody could have been in a worse position than we. And we have proven to you — we are the litmus test — that, whatever your problems are, it’s just an opportunity, it will come out much better in the long run.
“The Saints have done it. You are looking at a miracle that is also attainable by you.”
IOLA suffered its own catastrophe with the Flood of 2007.
About 120 — approximately 5 percent — of Iola homes were lost to flooding. Many businesses were under water. Some said adios, but most have found other homes or rebuilt.
In all, the city has received almost $4 million in state and federal monies because of the flood. The lion’s share has gone for major re-works of the Community Recreation Building and Iola Municipal Pool, to build a new community building that will now include the fair board office, and renovations to the wastewater treatment plant, specifically repairs to its sewer lift stations.
In essence, our primary community buildings have been greatly enhanced because of the flood and the good fortune that Riverside Park is not in a designated flood plain.
BUT THE WORK is not done. Like New Orleans, we must set our sights on attracting newcomers. New Orleans lured young innovators and inventors by promoting its relatively low cost of living and revamped educational system. They’ve worked to make their city more attractive with improved housing and public facilities.
Almost five years later, New Orleans is proof positive that effort is rewarded.
Step by step, we, too, can direct our course.
One way all citizens can have direct involvement is by participating in the Vision Iola project now under way. The program has a six-month deadline in which to address signage, downtown enhancements and parks and trails — and then send us on our way with ways to carry out the dream.
If you can’t make the twice-a-month meetings — the next is Feb. 24 — then visit the Web site, visioniola.com, where an online forum is available for public input.
Another good start to the year is the task force evaluating Allen County Hospital.
Also starting this year, city officials have allow-ed .5 percent of the city’s sales tax to be dedicated to a capital improvement program.
In 2009, that equaled about $575,000.
Now’s the time to start brainstorming how best to allocate those funds. Public restrooms on the square, for example, have long been in demand.
The Community Invol-vement Task Force also is a group of public do-gooders. It meets at 7 a.m. Fridays in City Hall for one hour. Its recent successes include attracting grants for improving Iola Public Library and for rehabbing houses in east Iola.
Thrive Allen County aims to help communities improve areas of health, education and recreation. Its next meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday at the Moran Senior Center and is open to the public.
Armchair quarterbacking is no longer allowed. As with New Orleans and its Saints, recovery is a team effort.
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