It had been building for months. Some Miami-Dade County commissioners had been complaining about the Beacon Council’s CEO Frank Nero — that he was too abrasive; that the council, a private-public partnership for the county’s economic development, was not transparent enough with the public’s money; that the council needed to spend more to help mom and pop businesses; that it wasn’t paying enough attention to distressed urban areas, on and on and on.
On Friday, Mr. Nero resigned after the Beacon board of volunteer business people pressed for his departure after his almost 17 years working to grow Miami’s international reach. No doubt Mr. Nero’s zeal for making his points about economic enterprise and his sometimes abrupt style didn’t help the situation. But in the end, it should never be about an individual. It should always be about what’s best for South Florida’s economy, about job creation and residents’ quality of life.
Even in the worst of times, during the Great Recession, Mr. Nero set out to chart a course for local business growth with One Community One Goal, a blueprint on targeting specific industries to bring good-paying jobs to the region. As former Beacon chairwoman Robin Reiter, who will serve as Beacon’s short-term CEO, noted, “Frank built a fabulous institution.”
So now what?
The Beacon board promises a national search for a new executive. Good.
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who may have lost confidence in Mr. Nero after he sent a not-too-diplomatic letter to South Florida members of Congress about an air show, also should look at the best models for economic development in the country — places like New York and Dallas, which spend a lot more on attracting new enterprises to their cities and have the mayor directly involved.
Mayor Gimenez campaigned on building a business climate that cuts the red tape (without hurting fragile environmental areas) to grow local businesses and attract new ones here. He made economic development the priority in his State of the County address recently and the symbolism ought not have been lost on residents that he made the speech in the heart of the African-American community, where jobs are particularly scarce.
Sunshine is not enough to bring new industry here. The county also has to invest more in strategic initiatives to court more high-tech, bio-tech and international banking, among other targeted industries, to Miami. Beacon only gets $3.7 million in county funds and another $2 million in private funding. The public money comes from a portion of the local business tax, with Beacon getting about 28 percent and the rest going to the county’s general fund.
Yet commissioners have been angling to raid Beacon’s coffers for $1 million. They want to use the money to supplement the county’s Mom and Pop Grants program and split up the money among the 13 commissioners’ districts. That’s not a strategic investment. It’s a willy-nilly political giveaway.
Of course, Beacon can always do better to help small businesses with their growth plans, and it was doing much more until the county cut back some of that funding when the economy tanked the past few years. Still, at least 60 percent of the companies Beacon has helped have fewer than 50 workers.
Now that county coffers have stabilized and revenues have started to grow, the mayor and commissioners need to focus on a strategic plan that will pay off in the long run. That will mean investing more in the short-term in Beacon and focusing on results not personalities.