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Giving Thanks 

Some indicators give us reason to believe that, in many ways, Louisiana and New Orleans are headed in the right direction.

Last week, Gambit Weekly had the pleasure of introducing our annual 40 Under 40™ -- a compilation of outstanding local citizen-achievers who make a positive difference in a variety of fields: business, education, the arts, nonprofits, science, athletics. Once again, we are humbled and astounded at the level of achievement realized by these designees and by the fact that this year's list represents a mere fraction of the worthy individuals who were nominated. Judging from the pool of nominations we received this year, our city's future is in excellent hands.

For that we are grateful, and as we enter into the week of Thanksgiving, we reflect on other indicators that give us reason to believe that in many ways, Louisiana and New Orleans are headed in the right direction.

Louisiana has made strides in education. The state's school accountability and standards program was ranked high this year by both Education Week (which listed it as No. 1 in the nation) and by the Princeton Review (No. 6). Earlier this month, The Wallace Foundation chose Louisiana -- based on recent progress it has made -- as a recipient of a $3.6 million grant to strengthen educational leadership among school principals and superintendents. And in 2004, Louisiana's overall public schools improvement rate hit a record high, with two-thirds of the state's schools showing much better scores in achievement, attendance and dropout rates.

In many ways the state's business climate appears to be on the right track as well. Three Louisiana cities ranked in Inc. magazine's "Top 25 Cities in America for Doing Business" for 2004: New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles. New Orleans also showed significant progress as it advanced to No. 32 on Entrepreneur.com's "Top Cities for Entrepreneurs" list this year, up from last year's No. 48 rating. Louisiana State University, too, and its E.J. Ourso College of Business Administration was named the nation's third most entrepreneurial campus in 2004 by Forbes magazine and the Princeton Review.

Tourism continues to remain strong: Zagat Survey readers voted New Orleans No. 5 on its most recent list of U.S. cities they would most like to visit. Meanwhile, the lieutenant governor's office reported recently that tourism in Louisiana for the first half of 2004 outpaced the state's 2003 numbers, not to mention national tourism averages.

Hollywood seems to be noticing us more, too. Efforts by the Governor's Office of Film & Television Development, the mayor's office, and the business community -- most notably, such corporations as Louisiana Production Capital, which provides legal and financial services to producers looking for state tax credits -- have created an increase of more than $250 million in film production in Louisiana since 2002. Evidence of Louisiana and New Orleans' increased visibility on the silver screen shows up in major motion pictures (The Runaway Jury, Monsters Ball, Ray, to name a few) and in film shoots that are popping up all over the city these days.

Three New Orleans natives were among Financial Times' inaugural "Top 20 Southerners to Watch" list ("a compilation of outstanding talent") -- U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (No. 5), Mayor Ray Nagin (No. 8.) and jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis (No. 12). And this year, Louisiana's largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, got a double first when it named Sibal S. Holt as its president: Holt became the first black person, and the first woman, to hold that position in the state.

Though many of New Orleans' musicians are accustomed to toiling in near-obscurity, some local acts have been getting national attention. Supagroup is recording its second album for a national, semi-major label after touring Canada and the West Coast with Alice Cooper. World Leader Pretend signed with Warner Bros. and should have an album out in early winter. Macrosick and Susan Cowsill are getting serious attention, and a couple of indie labels are very interested in Bipolaroid.

Louisiana is not without its failings. We all are aware, or should be, of the state's dismal rating in some national indices that measure health, crime, punishment and poverty. Louisiana still has a long, long way to go to completely rebuild its public education system. Yet this year, our state made its highest-ever showing on another ranking that's far more telling of the character of its residents: We are among the most generous people in America, says the Philanthropy News Digest. The publication's "Generosity Index" measures residents' willingness to support charitable organizations by comparing how much money they have against how much they give. Louisiana ranked 42nd on the "have" scale and 10th on the "give" scale, giving the state an overall No. 4 rating.

It's one of the reasons why, despite its flaws, we have reason to be proud of where we live and whom we live among. In that vein, we thank our readers. Your support and feedback help a truly alternative, truly local form of media to survive and thrive, and for that we are grateful all year round. Happy Thanksgiving.

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