Over the last 22 years, the editor in chief of Essence Magazine says Essence Festival had meant a $200 million economic boon to the city of New Orleans. This year she said as the event's popularity grows, they've had to expand.

"Oh it's huge, I mean we've introduced two new halls, we've had to open two more halls to contain all the information that we're sharing," said Essence Magazine Editor In Chief Vanessa De Luca.
Essence Festival kicked off this morning with thousands jamming the Convention Center halls.

"New Orleans is incredibly important to Essence, and it's because it really is the heart beat of a community that has a cultural legacy, a strength, a resilience," De Luca said.

"I mean it's fun, it's the first time I've been here so it is a little exciting," said Addie Allison from Los Angeles.

"They have to take something back," said Chef Leon West. "I tell them to come to my booth, they can take something back, and they can let the flavor of the south bounce in their mouth."

New Orleans Chef Leon West is one of 200 vendors at Essence.

"Oh it's very important to my business because I've been here for seven years, and I get a lot of repeat business."

Essence also brings in major national and international businesses like Walmart.

"This is our customer base,very, very important," said Walmart senior director of Supply and Diversity Michael Byron.

"But one of the things for me, I'm in charge of supply diversity for the company Wal Mart Stores, Inc., and it is really an outreach opportunity for me to reach new suppliers, you know local suppliers we can do business with."

"I'm really enjoying the atmosphere," said Angel Kelly. "Once you leave home and come back, it's always the same."

Katrina transplanted Angel Kelly to Waco, Texas, Essence let her visit home.

"I also just Googled the new thing at the Blue Crab, and we'll be having a little margaritas there," Kelly said.

"I went to Emeril Lagasse's restaurant Nola last night," said Addie Allison.

"Oh my God, it is just too hard to pick (my favorite restaurant)," laughed De Luca. "You know, I leave a lot of money here too."