Louis Madere is confident about his city's future.
''When I see a new building go up, I know that people are going to work to fill that building,'' says Mr. Madere, director of the office of economic analysis in New Orleans. Other economists have played down New Orleans because its small manufacturing base has been shrinking. But tracing back through 250 years of history, Madere says trade always has been the secret of this city's growth. He says this trading tradition leads directly to the city's increasing role as a major financial center. While New Orleans lacks a strong manufacturing base, he says, it is strategically located in a state where ''whenever you dig a hole, you're always going to find oil, water, sulfur, or salt.''
By introducing air conditioning and ending segregation and political corruption, New Orleans was bound to prosper he says. But far from trying to control the direction of growth here, he says that he watches and ''nudges'' because ''you can't control the development of your city with so many market forces in action that are vastly more important than government.''