The key to addressing New Orleans’ social problems is by focusing on the economy, and the best way to do that is an aggressive focus on attracting Fortune 500 companies to relocate to the city, mayoral candidate Troy Henry told an Uptown neighborhood group late last week — arguing that his background in business uniquely qualifies him for the job.
Addressing the Audubon-Riverside Neighborhood Association, Henry described a career that led him from a Stanford University education to jobs at IBM and other major companies before his last run for mayor in 2010. Those positions in business, he said, make him the ideal person to begin a project of recruiting major new employers to New Orleans.
Specifically, Henry said he’ll select about 200 growing companies from the Fortune 1000 list and prepare aggressive pitches to them about why they should consider locating in New Orleans. If he can succeed with 8 to 10 percent of them, he said, that’s 16 to 20 major new employers for the city — a major shot in the arm to the economy, restoring it to its rightful place as a business leader alongside Houston, Atlanta and other major Southern population centers.
“I have a vision that we can grow like these other cities grow,” Henry said. “I don’t want to keep being a ‘settle-for’ city.”
Those companies, in turn, will generate their own industry of support companies, such as local law firms and others, who will also in turn increase their hiring, Henry said.
“The derivative effect of that is huge,” Henry said. “We don’t have that here because we’re declining. If you don’t know how to recruit businesses, if you don’t speak their language, you’ll miss the boat every time.”
Along the way, Henry said, he’ll reform City Hall to make it more business-friendly as well.
“Just try and get a permit. It’s a disaster,” Henry said. “We’re going to re-engineer the culture of government so it’s truly customer-service oriented. … This is fixable, but you need professionals managing other professionals running a professional organization.”
Henry’s pitch drew inquisitive interest from the association membership Thursday evening, as president Mary Fanning Horaist asked for more specifics about why New Orleans might be more attractive than nearby Baton Rouge. Henry replied that attracting jobs must be combined with more training, and promised to work with local schools to prepare a willing and able workforce. For example, he said, if he manages to recruit a large call center, many New Orleanians need more training in their telephone skills.
“We have a lot of citizens here that we’ve got to teach how to speak the King’s English,” Henry said.
The city can provide a short-term boost to the economy as well, simply by hiring people to fill the vacancies it has. He noted that “benign neglect” has left numerous unskilled jobs vacant at the Sewerage & Water Board.
“It doesn’t take much specialized training to teach somebody to get in a hole and fix something,” Henry said.
Association member Tiki McIntyre said that prospective employers are not going to want to bring their companies to the city if they feel unsafe, and right now she’s afraid to let teenage children walk the dog around the block. The problem, she said, is that there simply aren’t enough officers on the street.
“I don’t want to move,” McIntyre said. “I want you to keep me here.”
Henry acknowledged that police response times are still far too high — he noted friends in New Orleans East who had to wait 36 hours for a response to a home burglary call. But he questioned whether the problem was really a shortage of officers, noting other communities with similar-size police forces serving up to three times the population of New Orleans — with a response time in minutes.
Under Mayor Landrieu, Henry noted, the department’s budget has grown by a third, while the number of officers has decreased by a third.
Instead, Henry promised a full “root cause analysis” of the city’s lagging response times. Meanwhile, he said, he’ll focus the work of the department on the “baddest dudes,” those small core who commit the majority of gun crime like robberies and murders, putting so much pressure that they’ll want to move out of the city even if they elude arrest. Finally, he said, he’ll restore flexibility in the paid-detail system that allows police to choose which overtime shifts they work, helping pad their paychecks and increasing morale without the need for raises.