Civic and community leaders from Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi will meet in New Orleans Thursday to officially launch Ready4TakeOff.org, a coalition of Gulf Coast business groups calling for support in reviving their beleaguered local economy.
"We've been put in a tough situation and not by choice, so we have to fight to get out of this situation," said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, which has joined the new coalition. "This will be a tool to help us grow and revitalize the Gulf Coast, to bring it back to life."
The three-week-old group will be formally unveiled alongside events commemorating the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) will be present, as will local officials from all four states.
Coalition members recommend a variety of unconventional techniques to boost the Gulf economy -- perhaps most notably, they intend to lobby the federal government to buy Gulf seafood for the military.
"The Department of Defense is one of the largest buyers of wholesale food in the world," said Smith. "It would make sense for the federal government to help ..."
The group also hopes to seal the deal on a $40-billion federal contract for construction of the KC-45 tanker in Mobile, Ala., and will push for increased revenue-sharing from offshore oil companies to make up for the damage they've caused to the tourism industry that has long been critical to the Gulf economy.
The biggest challenge for the seafood industry, Smith told the Huffington Post, is restoring consumer confidence in the Gulf "brand." Smith said the $2 million BP offered for crisis communications is not even close to the kind of money coastal businesses need to turn their national image around. "They are spending a fortune," he said of the BP advertising campaign, "but they're helping themselves. They need to help us."
WATCH Mobile, Ala. Mayor Sam Jones talk about the new coalition: