Beacon Council helping New Orleans counterpart with fundraiser
By Risa Polansky
A New Orleans economic development organization taking its cues from the Beacon Council was to hold a major fundraiser this week with Beacon officials and local executives on hand to continue helping the organization in its efforts to revive the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Jam Fest at Tipitina's on Wednesday in the French Quarter was designed to raise $100,000 needed to complete a study of economic development models nationwide to facilitate a plan for the Horizon Initiative organization.
"They can't exactly duplicate the Beacon Council because things there are different," said Frank Nero, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade County organization. "They are going through a similar process we went through when the Beacon Council was formed."
George Wentz, co-founder of the Horizon Initiative, said a goal of the organization "is to basically mimic the Beacon Council and tremendous success the Beacon Council has had in Miami."
He credits the council for the rebirth of Miami after it rough period in the 1990s. "We felt there were so many parallels between what we're going through that Miami was going through when the Beacon Council was formed," he said, citing Hurricane Andrew, racial issues and heightened crime.
The economies of the two areas are similar, he said. Both are port, tourism and university cities.
The group chose the Beacon Council as its model "since Miami has overcome so many of the things we're facing now," Mr. Wentz said.
The first step, Mr. Nero said, is to engage city government and corporate entities. "It was clear they were disjointed between the public and private sector," he said. "For this to work, they need to develop a partnership."
Horizon Initiative proponents are aware, Mr. Wentz said. They have garnered the support of 200 private entities and expect legislation formally establishing a partnership to go before the New Orleans City Commission within 90 days.
Private-sector support is paramount, said Clyde Rucker, senior vice president of global affairs and external communications for Miami-based Burger King Corp. who has been working with the Horizon Initiative.
"New Orleans needs this more than any city out there at this point," he said. "The private sector needs to realize its human resources and capital come from the community. Corporate citizenship should be of the utmost importance."
As the partnership progresses, the New Orleans group should be "trying to hold onto companies and industries they have," Mr. Nero said. And recruitment of new ones is "no easy task." They have to market the area with one voice."
Mr. Wentz agreed.
"We have not been effective in planning and implementing any strategy for economic development in this town," he said. "If we don't have a business plan of where New Orleans needs to be 20 years from now, we'll never get there."
Without prosperity, he said, the city can't pay for infrastructure. "Once we have this entity in place, we have a vehicle for economic development," he said, hoping the initiative will "increase the tax base, increase the amount of reinvestment we can make in the city."
The group is focusing on "not only a long-term plan and vision but also short-term and achievable steps in the recovery process," Mr. Wentz said. "We have had terrible luck getting anything done with FEMA in this city. Horizon Initiative is leading the charge on that."
The group has recruited former Federal Emergency Management Agency general counsel Ernest Abbott to meet with city officials "to discuss how we can break this logjam. Right now, we've got to get the economic fires burning over here."