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All Things Business with Sandra Lombana Lindquist

Networking, New Orleans, business growth, business owner organizations, economic development, education, advocacy

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Sam Olmsted
All right, thanks for joining us, Andrew. How are you?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
doing great. Thanks for this opportunity.

Sam Olmsted
Absolutely. Well, let’s just dive right into it. Can you talk about the importance of joining organizations like the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce and why that’s so important for both individuals and business owners?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Yeah, and before I answer the exact question, let me just explain what a chamber is, because a lot of people ask me that. What is a Chamber of Commerce? And honestly, throughout the United States, every chamber is different. Some chambers focus on tourism, some focus on economic development, some just focus on the chamber aspect of it, and some do all, all of the above. So here in New Orleans, we had an organization, the New Orleans River Region Chamber, and it did all of that.

But it dissolved in like right before Katrina. So each parish in the state started their own chamber of commerce and Orleans Parish did the same. So we’re Orleans centric. So Jefferson Parish has a chamber St. Tammany. We primarily focus on Orleans Parish businesses, but that’s not the case that it’s any business who wants to do business in the city of New Orleans can join the New Orleans Chamber. But we’re a business group.

So we have about 1200 companies that have joined the New Orleans Chamber and that equates to about 52,000 employees. And so what we do are programs and services that help employees and their businesses. And mainly it’s through generating leads, getting new clients, meeting people, which is really networking. Which a lot of people don’t like that word networking, but it truly is something important

especially in New Orleans where it’s all about relationships. So the mission of the New Orleans Chamber is to offer opportunities and resources that help businesses prosper through networking, education, and advocacy. However, we find with the networking and education piece, that’s what most of the businesses want because most of our businesses are small businesses, like 91% of all of the businesses, both in Orleans Parish and in the New Orleans Chamber. It’s funny, it mirrors.

They primarily need the networking and the education.

Sam Olmsted
So just to jump in real quick, is that framework of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, is that different than other cities that have maybe a greater region chamber? And why did that happen? What’s the kind of history there?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Yeah, absolutely. Every chamber is different. Even if you look at us in Jefferson Chamber, Jefferson Chamber does a lot more in the advocacy piece, where New Orleans Chamber does more in the networking piece, even though we overlap in both ways. But it’s because of New Orleans. It’s you know, we have all these amazing places to go restaurants, hotels, cool places to do events. So

That’s where we capitalized on the opportunity with the networking is like bringing people to all these cool places in Orleans Parish to have these networking events or educational events. So that’s where we tended to take the lead more is in the networking piece.

Sam Olmsted
sense.

Eliza Fillo
And it sounds like you kind of touched on this a little bit, but would you be able to give us a deeper dive into how exactly you attract new members to the chamber and how maybe that’s kind of New Orleans unique?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Yep, total great segue from what I was just saying. It’s really through the events. Just for an example, we do a Chamber After Five every month and it’s a networking event for anybody who’s a Chamber member or even a prospective member. Last month we had at the House of Blues and we had over 300 people in attendance. And even the month before that we had it at Sazrac House and we had 500 people in attendance.

So you can tell by the attendance numbers that they are popular and people want to attend. But it’s not that we just have a party for two hours and have a cocktail and just kind of hang out. It’s not that. We do a very strategic networking. It’s a facilitated networking, but it’s also very strategic. So the New Orleans Chamber actually, we’re only a staff of six people, but we have ambassadors that help us in all of our events.

Sam know this because he is an ambassador. So we have staff and ambassadors situated throughout their events. We have these big name tags with a ribbon on it so people can see us. And so we tell people, if you walk into a room and there’s 300 people and you feel overwhelmed, which is understandable, come find any of us with the name tags and we will take you by the arm and walk you around the room and introduce you to people.

And it’s not just the name tags, but it’s also, there’s a list at every event at the registration table with everybody else that’s in the room with you. So you can look at that list, we sort it by industry. So if you were, if your target market is the banking industry, then you can look at the list and see who are the bankers in the room. You can say, oh Sandra, I wanna meet Jenny, who’s a banker at whatever bank, and I will scan the room and I will.

go help find that person. And that’s what Sam does too, as an ambassador, we do that. So it’s facilitated, it’s strategic, and then we also do another thing that most of the people don’t know. But on the name tags, if you’re a new member or a prospective member, we put a little stamp to say that you’re new or that you’re prospective so we know who the new people are.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
So when that person, when we walk up to that person and we see that little stamp, oh, are you new to the chamber? I’m Sandra, what can I do to help you? That kind of thing. Or if it’s a prospective member, oh, I see you’re not part of the chamber, is this one of your first events? What can I do to help you? And then again, we take them around the room and help find their clients or their leads or just to help them meet people. But to answer your question on how do we attract new members?

It’s mainly through these events. Once we have an event, we usually have five or 10 people join within the next couple of days because they were able to find a new client. And that’s what we tell them too is, listen, you don’t need to join right away. Come to a couple of events. Once you get a client, that’ll pay for your membership dues, then join. And…

And just even like right now, we’ve been doing a membership campaign and so we’ve been offering our events complimentary. So usually they’re complimentary for members, but we charge a small fee for non-members. But we waived that fee right now because of the campaign. And even right now, just in the month of June, we had over 30 companies join the chamber after attending these events.

Sam Olmsted
Yeah, and I just want to give a quick shout out to the Ambassador program because I don’t know any other organizations that have a program like this. And as Sandra said, the chamber’s five people strong and then I think 20 to 30 ambassadors on a rotating basis. So there’s new people coming in, people going out, and essentially it really adds another layer of welcoming to every single event that you go to. And there is a lot more thought.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Uh-huh.

Sam Olmsted
put into how people are speaking to each other, who they’re talking to, who’s making sure, you know, people are going around and meeting other folks. So I think it’s really well done. And the last thing I’ll say about these events is that they’re legitimately fun, which I think is really cool. So, you know, the House of Blues event, there’s live music, there’s food, there’s raffles and stuff. So didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to be an ambassador.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Well, we work hard but we can also play while we’re doing it.

Sam Olmsted
Yeah. Well, let’s switch gears to some of the issues that New Orleans businesses are facing today. Just because, you know, as the chamber president, I’m sure that’s on your mind a lot, how you can help organizations and what the chamber can do as an organization. But before we talk about what you can do, we really have to kind of name and face those issues. So what do you think the main problems are that business owners are facing?

specifically in New Orleans.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Well, right now, and I hear this firsthand from our members, it’s crime and it’s insurance. And with the insurance, it’s not only flood insurance, but it’s also homeowners and business owner insurance. And with the skyrocketing insurance, it’s causing not only residents to have to leave, but it’s also causing businesses to have to leave.

And with that regard, they’re not just leaving Orleans Parish or New Orleans, they’re leaving the state. And when you look at FEMA’s calculations, it says that Louisiana is gonna experience 134% increase in insurance, which is astronomical and truly unacceptable. And the way they calculated these raises of insurance is questionable. So that’s why we’ve been working with Congress.

and other organizations in the region to deal with this. And that’s a big part of what I want to stress when we talk about the chamber and the advocacy piece. We know we can’t do this alone. We have to work with our partners. So whether it’s our tourism partners, our economic development partners, our fellow chambers, we know that together our voice is gonna have more impact than just the New Orleans Chamber.

which I do feel like has impact because we’re in New Orleans. But to give you an example of that, last month, my colleagues, it was the CEO for the Lake Charles Chamber, the CEO of the Baton Rouge Chamber, myself as a New Orleans Chamber, Mississippi Gulf Coast, and Mobile Chamber. And we’ve been meeting on a regular basis for about a year now with other chambers along the Gulf Coast region, from like Texas to the Florida Panhandle.

But the five of us flew to D.C. in May, and it was one day, incredibly busy but effective and amazing day, but we started early in the morning with a congressional breakfast. And we invited all of our congressmen in our areas, and they all came. They all showed up.

Sam Olmsted
That’s cool.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Congressman Troy Carter was there, Congressman Clay Higgins, Garrett Graves, and then there were two from Mississippi and I believe one from Alabama, but it was everybody who is representative of the Gulf Coast region. So just to have them all show at our request was really pretty awesome. And they listened to us and they told us, okay, yes, we’ve heard this about the insurance or we know that crime is an issue. There were five issues we discussed and they were very receptive to it.

And then after that we met individually with all of our senators from our five Area region or really three state region and again, they had their chief of staff with them They had their legislative directors with them. They met with us personally sat down listened to us and even Some of them went so far as to say, okay. Well, what can I do specifically and Senator Cassidy is one of those who

actually was like, okay, I know I need to do something. What do I need to do? And he wanted up reintroducing a bill that he had set with, it’s Senator Menendez from New Jersey, where Sandy had been an issue, Hurricane Sandy in the past. So FEMA has issues, or New Jersey has issues with FEMA as well as Louisiana. So just for Cassidy to take the lead on this.

And not only did he say he was gonna do it when we were meeting him in DC, but then the next week he flew into New Orleans and requested a round table. And GNO Inc, who’s the regional economic development agency that we love to partner with because they’re so fantastic, GNO Inc facilitated this round table for Cassidy and brought all these players from the whole region to the table where we talked about it. And so, you know, this bill that he’s reintroducing is

to mandate transparency from FEMA and to offer some affordability guardrails.

Sam Olmsted
Yeah, that’s fantastic. And it’s really impressive that you can gather the other chamber presidents and have kind of a stronger voice in Congress for hopefully our region. What were the five issues? Do you remember that brought up?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Uh-huh.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Of course. So two of them were with FEMA. One, the insurance that we discussed. The other is disaster recovery and the timing with the disaster recovery as well as the housing component to it. So like in Lake Charles, they had Zeta and Laura, the two hurricanes a couple years ago.

People in the region were able to get temporary housing, but it took longer for them to finish the construction on their homes, and FEMA took away their temporary housing. So these people are left without a home or without housing. That’s just, you know, how can you do that? But they had their rules and they were setting it up. So we were just trying to explain to them that their rules need to be changed a little bit for the betterment of the community.

So it was disaster recovery, insurance, coastal protection issues, which of course affected all three states. And then we also talked about fisheries and crime.

Eliza Fillo
Great. I think that the chamber can sometimes get a wrap of, you know, just being kind of a means of networking. And it’s great to hear you kind of highlight and lay out all the ways that it is so much more than that. You mentioned crime briefly before, and I kind of just wanted to touch back on that. I know it’s a hot topic in New Orleans right now. Can you talk to us a little bit about how crime is a problem for businesses and the role of the NOAA coalition in that?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Yes. So yes, crime is definitely an issue. And around this time last year, I actually had businesses coming to me and saying, Sam, I’m out, I’m moving. Like, you know, they don’t feel safe. Their employees don’t feel safe. So it was definitely something that we needed to address. And before I say that, I do want to say that this is not just New Orleans. This is going around all over the country.

and I talked to my fellow colleagues all over the country and we’re all experiencing the same things. So it’s not just a New Orleans thing or a Baton Rouge thing or a Louisiana thing. So I just wanted to preface that. But to crime, when I’m having people tell me that this is an issue and that they’re leaving, of course that’s not what we want them to do. We want them to be here and we want their quality of life to be wonderful. So at that point I actually went to our…

again to some of our partners, Walt Leger, who’s the head of New Orleans and Company, who’s the tourism arm, and I went to Michael Heck, who is the head of the regional economic development agency, GNO, Inc., that I mentioned earlier, and asked them, you know, are you hearing the same things I’m hearing? And yes, they both said that. And GNO, Inc. had already started a coalition.

to deal with it. So I just jumped into the coalition and it was like early on. So it was in June of 2022 when the coalition came out and did a press conference. And at that point we had about a hundred businesses, nonprofits, organizations that were signed on. So it gave us a voice again, we’re talking this collective voice has more impact than if it’s just.

three people or five people, when there’s 120 people doing a press conference and saying, hey, crime is an issue, what are we gonna do about it? And it wasn’t just what are we gonna do about it, it was these are the two things that we need to focus on and this is what we need to do. So the two factors, the two prongs in the NOLA coalition, one is more of that short term fix, which is supporting NOPD. We’re down.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
I believe at the highest we were 1600 officers and now we’re about 900 officers. So how do we help with the recruitment and retention of our NOPD? So that was one. And then the second prong is more of a long-term generational change. And that is focused on supporting our youth and offering youth services. Because when you look at the crimes that are being committed, they’re mainly by young people.

And so why are they doing it? Is it a lack of education? Is it lack of after school activities, lack of summer activities, which we see as a spiking crime during the summer? So what do we need to do? And so the goal for the NOLA Coalition was to raise $15 million over a three year period. So 5 million each year, and put it towards nonprofits that focus on youth services. And it’s not just like…

you know, the big nonprofits which are hugely effective, but also the neighborhood nonprofits that are in the neighborhoods where the youth reside and will have easier access to them. So, you know, summer programs or early education, all of these things are important for the long-term fix to this.

Sam Olmsted
Yeah, I’m excited that you talked about that because obviously there is both a short-term problem and a long-term problem. Does the Chamber partner with any of those organizations that work to kind of help the youth in New Orleans or does it work directly with the NOAA coalition that then disperses those funds to those different organizations?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
So the NOLA Coalition has a grant period that they, you as a non-profits can apply for some of the money that is raised and then they offer it out. And I don’t remember when the next cycle is, but they already completed one cycle where they put money out to the smaller non-profits. A lot of those non-profits are chamber members

and get the word out that if you don’t know about the NOLA Coalition and you are a small nonprofit, please join the coalition so that you may have access to this. Now you don’t have to be a non-profit to join the NOLA Coalition. Any business, any neighborhood association, any church, any company can join and it’s we have a website it’s nolacoalition.info and if you go and check it out you can see how you can join. There’s no fee to join you can just be a part of

the now over 500 businesses that are a part of it, businesses, nonprofits, organizations overall. And you can just join to be a part of it. But if you do want to offer some financial resources, of course that’s open too, because we do wanna reach our goal of 15 million over the next three years.

Sam Olmsted
Yeah, that’s really exciting. Let’s switch gears one last time and talk about programming just because that’s a huge arm of the New Orleans Chamber. I know that’s how I first got attracted to going to these events is, oh, that sounds really fun. That sounds really cool. And there’s always a good venue, good food, good drinks. So what are the most important aspects or the steps to creating valuable programming?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Honestly, it’s really one step to me. It’s listening. Listening to your constituency, listening to our members. Every program, every event, every project that the Chamber has created, it’s because our members asked us to, or complained about something, or said, this is what I want. So, I mean, for example, the crime. I had people telling me, I’m checking out, so.

Then we reached out to GNO Inc. We reached out to the tourism. We reached out to all these other organizations that were involved and are continuing to be involved. Same with the insurance. I was hearing it firsthand that some companies are leaving the state because they can’t afford the insurance and it’s not just businesses, but residents too. I don’t know about y’all, but in my son’s school, we lost five families last year that moved out of the state of Louisiana.

I mean, at the end of the school year, so this past May. And it’s a lot of people cannot afford their mortgages anymore. And especially people with a fixed income, that’s incredibly difficult. In fact, I was talking to an elderly couple the other day who had paid off their home and all they had to pay for was insurance, but the insurance quadrupled and they couldn’t afford their home anymore. So where are they gonna go? I mean, most likely they’re gonna go live with family, but where’s that family? Is it in Arkansas? Is it in Texas?

So, you know, that was an issue. So, you know, that’s one reason.

Sam Olmsted
I have to mention that you can’t really sell your home as easily either because people don’t want to take on that cost of insurance. So then you’re, you’re stuck in another difficult position.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Exactly.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Correct. And then even some of the programs that the Chamber has created over the years. One of our monthly events is called the Power Hour, and it’s sponsored by Gulf Coast Bank every month. But it’s 60 people, 60 minutes, and everybody stands up and gives their 60 second elevator pitch. And it’s facilitated, and we time it, and it’s really pretty cool.

But we created it because I kept hearing from our businesses that they wanted a platform to tell others who they are and what they do. And so they all wanted to do lunch and learns, but we have 1200 companies, we can’t do 1200 lunch and learns a year. So that’s when we came up with this concept of 60 people, 60 minutes. And honestly, what’s pretty cool about it is if you went to a networking event like Chamber After Five, you might have…

five or six really good conversations with someone else to tell them who you are and what you do. But with the Power Hour, you have 59 other people that are your captive audience. They’re sitting there, they’re gonna listen to you. And in 60 seconds, you can say a lot. I always give this example, Sam, of the young woman who worked for a marketing company, I mean a PR company, and 20 seconds, she dedicated to the company itself.

20 seconds she dedicated to the owner of the company who had the reputation and you know why most people were doing business. In the last 20 seconds she said I’m finishing my internship and I’m looking for a full-time job and this is who I am and this is what my area of expertise is. So 60 seconds it was fantastic and we winded up hiring her. She was such a great hire but you know you can say a lot about who you are and in that process

Sam Olmsted
That’s what we’re out.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
we give tips on how to be memorable. So of the 59 people, how do you stand out? Use statistics, give examples, use testimonials, things that’ll make you memorable. And so it’s fun, you’re being timed, so you get dinged if you don’t sit down in your 60 seconds. But in that process, we’re all having a good time and talking about what worked and what didn’t work.

Sam Olmsted
Yeah, that one’s really enjoyable as well. I’ve been to a few of those and, uh, and you do it sort of rapid fire, just meeting a million people. So it’s, it’s a great experience. Um, those are all the questions that we had organized. I’m stepping out of my podcast questioning. Um, but, so we’ll probably cut this part towards in the middle here. Um, but, uh, and by bringing up anything that you want to plug or talk about.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
I’m going to go to bed.

Sam Olmsted
I know that the luncheon is tomorrow. Maybe, well, this obviously won’t be out before tomorrow, but we talk about upcoming events, Chamber After Fives, signing up for the Chamber, anything you want to kind of plug, and I can tee you up for that as well, if you have something in mind. All right, so let me kind of step back and we’ll make a little clap here. All right, Sanders, so that about wraps it up. Before we do,

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Okay.

Sam Olmsted
Is there anything that you want to promote, anything you want to discuss or talk about to let people know about the chamber?

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Yes, so as I mentioned earlier, we do events every month and there’s quite a few events that we do throughout the period of time. And we actually put together a postcard that lists the quarterly events. So you can see what’s going on over the next three months and plan your calendar accordingly. But you can also visit our website, which is neworleanschamber.org and there’s a whole section that lists all of our upcoming events. So please.

come to an event. If you’re not a chamber member, let me know. You can come as my guest. But just to experience it and see what we’ve been talking about and see it for yourself firsthand. But I would also want to say that just remember that it’s not all about networking and being a part of the chamber. It’s not just attending the events, which are important because it’s like a gym membership. If you don’t go to the gym, you’re not going to lose weight. If you don’t go to the chamber events, you’re not going to meet new people.

But there’s also other ways to generate leads and being on our website, we have such a strong SEO and so being a part of us gives you a platform on our website so companies are more easily found. And I know I’m speaking y’all’s language when I’m talking about this, but it’s exposure and then it’s also the advocacy piece. We are trying to do things to make New Orleans a better place to live.

Sam Olmsted
Thank you.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
a better place to work, a better place to raise your family. So just being a part of the chamber and supporting us is a great way to give back to your community.

Sam Olmsted
Absolutely. Well, that wraps it up. Thank you so much, Sandra. I really appreciate you coming here and kind of giving us an insight as to what the chamber does and how we can be better members and how we can bring new people into the fold. So thank you so much, and we really appreciate it.

Eliza Fillo
Thank you, Sam.

Sandra Lombana Lindquist
Thank you. This has been a great opportunity and we really appreciate what y’all do.

Sam Olmsted
That’s good.

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