NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today joined local small business owners, the State Director of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center (LSBDC) and a representative of the Microsoft Corporation to discuss small business recovery in the region following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The 2005 storms impacted 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses across the Gulf Coast, and in Louisiana alone, more than 18,000 businesses were totally destroyed.

“Small businesses are a critical foundation for the economic recovery of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast,” Sen. Landrieu said. “They invest in neighborhood storefronts and other community anchors, providing jobs and working with other local suppliers and customers to further extend the impact of successful businesses on lifting the region to its feet.

“For thousands of businesses with roots here in Louisiana and a desire to grow and thrive, the LSBDC provides the much-needed sunlight. The LSBDC’s training programs, assistance and counsel provide an essential guiding hand for our small business community, and in so doing are helping drive our recovery from the catastrophic storms and levee failures.”

The LSBDC offers high quality, no-cost business consulting and low-cost training for small business owners and potential owners through nine centers statewide. Through a landmark agreement organized by Sen. Landrieu, the LSBDC has partnered with Microsoft to provide one year of free software licensing to hurricane-affected small businesses and will also expand its Microsoft software training opportunities.

“What the LSBDC consultants in the New Orleans region have been doing is helping small businesses figure out how to first survive and then increase their sales and profits,” said Mary Lynn Wilkerson, the LSBDC State Director.

“A good portion of those businesses must determine how to expand beyond their local market. LSBDC consultants have been helping our clients develop new business strategies that include selling on the internet, developing totally new markets, tightly managing inventory, and how to manage with fewer employees. These strategies require the use of technology. We at LSBDC are grateful to Microsoft and Senator Mary Landrieu for this opportunity. This offer could provide the jumpstart into technology that small and medium-sized businesses must embrace to prosper.”

Under the program launched this month, hurricane-affected businesses can purchase licenses for Microsoft software, including the popular Windows and Office products, through any authorized Microsoft reseller with payments spread over three years. Eligible business owners then bring the first year’s invoice to any LSBDC and Microsoft will pay it on the business’ behalf. For a small business of 50 employees and 25 computers licensing Microsoft Windows Vista and the Office 2007 suite of programs, the free year results in savings of about $12,000.

“Microsoft applauds the work of the State of Louisiana and the Louisiana Small Business Development Center to restore these businesses and their local economies,” said Chris Sakalosky, South Central Area General Manager for Microsoft’s Small and Mid-Market Solutions & Partner Group. “Small businesses are the cornerstone of local communities across the nation, creating millions of new jobs each year, and we are pleased to be able provide a year of free licensing for Microsoft software purchased by affected small businesses.”

“This effort demonstrates how partnerships between big businesses and small, government and the private sector, can help drive recovery after a disaster,” said Sen. Landrieu, who chairs the Disaster Recovery Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “But it is also smart business. Microsoft recognizes that the businesses that survive disasters today are the successful customers and partners of tomorrow. I hope their leadership inspires other companies to take similar proactive steps.”

Joining Wilkerson, Sakalosky and the senator at the Greater New Orleans SBDC today were several local small business owners there to discuss the challenges of recovery or participate in training programs at the center. Among them was Dianne Sclafani, whose family’s Metairie cooking school has been training professional chefs, restaurant managers, and food service entrepreneurs for 20 years. The Sclafani family saw their enrollment drop drastically after Katrina because many of their students were displaced by the Hurricane. With the LSBDC’s help, Sclafani is now developing an online curriculum to serve students from more outlying regions who have difficulties finding lodging in the New Orleans region.

“Louisiana’s rebirth requires new strategies and inventive approaches, not tired ideas of the past,” Sen. Landrieu said. “This means harnessing the power of new technologies. Businesses that recognize this potential will be the ones leading the way as we rebuild. With partners like the LSBDC and Microsoft, I hope many more will be able follow Dianne Sclafani’s example and use technology to rebuild, reinvent and grow their businesses.”