Sometimes living in New Orleans can make you want to tear your hair out. You can barely drive around the city for more than 10 minutes without hitting at least one suspension-threatening pothole. It only has to rain hard for 30 minutes and streets are flooding. At least once a year we’re hit with a “Boil Water Advisory.” And the power goes out with alarming frequency because our electrical grid is apparently in a constant state of precariousness.
If your observations of our engineering abilities stopped there, you’d be justified in concluding we’re a bunch of inept losers. But, if you look just a little harder, and a little further east, you’re going to get a different impression. A very different impression.
Heading east on the I-10, after you pass the remnants of another piece of failed engineering, the long-abandoned Six Flags theme park, you pass an innocuous looking highway sign that says “NASA Michoud Assembly Facility.” If you took that exit, you’d find yourself at one of the largest manufacturing plants on Earth. There are over 43 acres of manufacturing space under one roof. You’ll find 3,200 people working there. 1,200 of these people are directly involved in building a rocket.
That rocket is called the Space Launch System. It’s a part of a NASA program, called Artemis. When it’s finished, this will be the most powerful rocket ever built. It’s going to take astronauts to Mars. We can’t fix the streets or keep the power on in New Orleans, but we can build a rocket to take astronauts to Mars.
The current Director of the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility is Lonnie Dutreix III.
If you raise your gaze off the potholed streets of New Orleans, you don’t have to look as high as deep space to see some other impressive engineering, and architectural, achievements.For example, the new Higgins Hotel and Conference Center that’s part of the impressive World War 2 Museum. Or, the Carondelet Street hospitality corridor, including the Ace Hotel. And then there’s the St Vincent Hotel, and the 100,000 square foot co-working space at the CAC.
All of these, and many other notable examples of new and renovated construction in New Orleans, are the projects of a construction company called Palmisano. Palmisano started out in construction in 1950, and it’s been in business continuously since. Oh, and by the way, when you drive on a smooth section of New Orleans roadway and say “Thank God they fixed this street,” that’s possibly the work of Palmisano’s civil engineering division.
The Market Leader at Palmisano is Nick Moldaner.
It’s not unusual for people who live in small towns to believe they’re the center of the universe. You don’t have to go very far to find the self-described “Strawberry Capital of the World” – Ponchatoula. Or the even more quaintly delusional, “Rice Capital of the World” – Crowley Louisiana. In New Orleans, we don’t have a grandiose slogan to market ourselves with. If there’s anything like it, it’s “Laissez le bon temps roulez.”While it’s an attractive part of our DNA not to take ourselves too seriously, it’s also worthwhile celebrating the enormous achievements in business, engineering, and science in New Orleans.
The folks at NASA Michoud in New Orleans East are taking us to another planet. And Palmisano is well into the third generation of building the city itself. It’s worth noting once in a while that we have more to be proud of in New Orleans than our food and music.
Out to Lunch is recorded live over lunch at NOLA Pizza in the NOLA Brewing Taproom. Photos by Astor Morgan.
For more lunchtime business and construction conversation, check out Wes Palmisano’s visit to Out to Lunch.