I've been trying to get my head around the question of how to rebuild the economy of such a massive area. Obviously it's a lot more than just rebuilding all the buildings. Although such rebuilding provides some economic activity and brings aid dollars flowing into the region, you also have to be creating other businesses. The region can't support itself solely on returnees selling groceries and building supplies to each other. Since a huge proportion of the old businesses are gone for good (except for name recognition in a few cases), new businesses must be conceived and created.
Well, the big picture on that is for brainier heads than mine.
But I have one timely idea that could help the region and the entire nation.
Congress should enact a nationwide, heavily tax-incented program to replace inefficient single-pane residential windows throughout the country with modern, inexpensive, energy efficient, double- or triple-pane windows to be manufactured in the Gulf region.
Go take a look at the Home Depot's store-brand replacement windows. I know Lowe's has something equivalent. For years I put off installing replacement windows in our 1987 suburban home because I assumed it was a complicated and expensive process. Then one day I spent a few minutes at HD taking a closer look and I was amazed. And so recently I replaced half of our builder-installed windows myself. It was a one-person job and you would not believe how easily the old windows come out and the new windows slip right in. While the instructions could use a few simple improvements, it is still one of the simplest home-improvement projects I've ever done. The new windows cost about $200 each (for the largest ones) or less. They're quieter, they slide smoothly, they're easy to clean, they've already saved us money on AC and they'll save us a bunch on heating this winter.
American homes are scandalously energy-inefficient. Never have we had a greater need to conserve energy than now.
Workshops to manufacture these replacement windows should be easy to set up. I'm sure it's easy to train workers to manufacture them. The Home Depot brand manufactures them in a wide assortment of standard sizes and they can be custom-ordered in 1/4-inch increments. There are minor differences between the ones manufactured for new contruction and for replacement, but most of the components are shared.
The region devastated by Katrina is going to need enormous quantities of both new and replacement windows. I believe some of the manufacturing is in Alabama already. It seems to me it would be very easy to increase manufacturing capacity near and later within the affected region. Demand could be increased by the combination of a nationwide informational campaign and a major tax credit for every person who replaces old windows with gas-and-oil-saving modern windows. Surely such large-scale replacements would almost immediately work to ease price and supply crunches on the energy used for heating and AC. Everybody would benefit.
I also hope that a small but capable blue-ribbon panel would take a quick (6-8 weeks?) look at current construction techniques and recommend some best practices for the mind-boggling amount of new contruction that will take place in the area. That would save money and result in superior quality of construction and livability.
As a nation, our construction techniques lag shockingly behind those used in modern regions of Europe; and even from region to region within the US, there are surprising differences in how intelligently the same task or purpose is accomplished by different builders. In both cases (nation-to-nation and region-to-region) it's mostly a question of people in one place never having heard of the techniques or technologies used in another place.