New Orleans' businesses may stay in Houston


Dozens of major firms that relocated to Houston after Hurricane Katrina are unlikely to return to Louisiana unless they get a positive message from state policymakers by January, business leaders told lawmakers on Thursday.

"Our hearts are in New Orleans but we have shareholders," said Richard Bachmann, chairman and chief executive officer of Energy Partners, a New Orleans oil and gas exploration firm that has moved key operations to Houston.

Bachmann spoke for the leaders of about 50 firms that represent oil, banking, manufacturing and hospitality interests who are trying to decide whether to stay in Houston or return their headquarters to hurricane-devastated New Orleans. Whether those firms come back will have a big impact on Louisiana's economy, not just New Orleans.

"I think the time is short," Bachmann told a legislative panel trying to find ways to respond to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"The companies I talk to say they are getting very comfortable," he said. "If we don't see a path forward by January, it is going to be very difficult." Bachmann said his firm has about 160 employees and a $20 million annual impact on the state.

The key items on the group's wish list are:

• Changes in state taxes to benefit businesses.

• Better levees around New Orleans.

• Improved state operations to boost the state's credibility in seeking massive federal hurricane aid.

It looks like the state is going to chase these guys off with even higher taxes. That does not count the even higher taxes imposed by corruption.


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