County lures Ojeda from retirement to run trade center
By Suzy Valentine
The next leader of Miami-Dade County's global trade agency has nine months to justify the organization's existence.
Tony Ojeda will come out of retirement next week to replace Manny Gonzalez as executive director of the Jay Malina International Trade Consortium.
Mr. Gonzalez is to become section chief for business ventures at Miami International Airport.
Mr. Ojeda's work will determine whether the county grants the organization a further term. Under an ordinance Mr. Ojeda helped draft near the end of his 30 years of service to the county, the consortium is set to expire at the end of this year.
"There is a sunset provision in the ordinance that I wrote," he said. "It's a new department engaged in new business. We need to look at that role in light of the fact that we're using public dollars. But I'm confident that come November, we'll continue."
A review of trade missions and the function of the Sister Cities Program role will rank among Mr. Ojeda's priorities when he returns to work at the county April 5.
"I think the first thing to do is to go back to basics," he said, "by carrying out our functions as hosts of incoming and participants in outgoing missions. Immediately, we're going to review the planning of trade missions and reduce them to make the consortium more accountable."
Some trips cannot be cut, said Mr. Ojeda.
"The consortium is mandated to go on missions with the airport and seaport staff to develop cargo routes," he said. "It's the business missions that must be reviewed. The Sister Cities Program also needs to be studied before undergoing revitalization."
Mr. Ojeda's appointment is the second change of governance for the consortium in recent months.
In January, county commission Chairman Joe Martinez installed Commissioner Natacha Seijas as chairwoman, replacing Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz.
There shouldn't be further changes immediately, said Mr. Ojeda.
"I'm not going to make changes in staff straightaway," he said. "That's not my immediate plan. I'll be evaluating staff to see that we're all in the same boat together. I plan to meet with the board and staff to achieve that which we were charged to do well - bringing trade to the county."
Another focus for the consortium, said Mr. Ojeda, is the changing economic climate post-9/11.
"Now terrorism has to be factored into the equation," he said, hinting at a deal that would have led to Dubai Ports World having a stake in running a terminal at the Port of Miami. "Everything has to be looked at from the perspective of security and how that affects economic development."
The Coral Gables resident joined the county in 1974 as a special assistant to the county manager. He moved up the ranks to assistant to the county manager and then assistant county manager. In 1988, Mr. Ojeda began to lay the groundwork for the county's international trade protocol before retiring in 2004.
He will retain his retirement benefits while receiving a salary of $125,000.
"It's exciting to be back," said Mr. Ojeda, who was one of five candidates who made the shortlist for the position. The county commission ratified the selection of County Manager George Burgess on March 23. "It's nice to be needed. The county's my family, and I want to be part of it again."