A national coalition of business groups recently opened a permanent office in New Orleans to help foster entrepreneurship in the wake of last year's deadly storm season.

The Urban Entrepreneurship Partnership Gulf Coast will provide business training, coaching, and access to financing and procurement opportunities for minority business owners struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

The effort is being led by the Urban Entrepreneurship Partnership, or UEP, a broad coalition of private, public and non-profit groups, including the Small Business Administration, the National Urban League, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and Business Roundtable.

Through its combined resources, the group, founded in 2004, seeks to promote entrepreneurship, business development, and job creation in economically underserved areas in cities across country, including Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Jacksonville, Fla. An office in Milwaukee opened this week.

The new Gulf Coast office, which opened on Sept. 22, will focus more specifically on the needs of local minority business owners hit by last year's storms, helping them find the "technical assistance, financial investment, and corporate relationships they need to grow," Daryl Williams, the group's national program director, said in a statement.

"Small businesses will be central to rebuilding the communities devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Williams said.

Katrina alone is estimated to have disrupted more than 125,000 small businesses across the region, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In April, a UEP-sponsored conference of business leaders, researchers, and trade associations identified small business as central to the region's rebuilding efforts.

Donald Powell, the federal coordinator of those efforts, has called the role entrepreneurs will play in the Gulf Coast's economic recovery a "unique opportunity that only comes along not in a lifetime, not in a generation, but maybe once every hundred years."