After a months-long national search, the Beacon Council appears to have chosen a stellar candidate with just the right credentials to lead the organization that promotes economic growth in Miami-Dade County.
Larry Williams, the 49-year-old executive who becomes president and CEO effective Oct. 7, is an experienced economic-development professional whose résumé includes relevant high-profile jobs in places that are leading the way to a transformative, 21st-century economy — Washington state, North Carolina and Atlanta.
Miami can use this kind of expertise. Moreover, Mr. Williams is said to possess the kind of amiable personality that will make a good fit for South Florida. This should help his chances of success as he steps into a job that has seen more than its share of ups and downs over the past year, including the unsettling period that preceded the March exit of the previous CEO, Frank Nero. He had almost two decades on the job — and a series of controversies that got a few noses out of joint, including those of some members of the County Commission and the congressional delegation.
Less drama and more cooperation would suit everyone. Appropriately, Mr. Williams made his final pitch to the Beacon Council board last week in Spanish, a language he learned in Costa Rica in the 1980s. Considering that trade with Latin America is a cornerstone of the local economy and that one of the advantages Miami offers is a diversified workforce with a strong bilingual component, it suggests Mr. Williams is well prepared for his new role.
He comes to the region at a time of exciting changes that offer the potential to propel the local economy to a higher level. Last year’s One Community One Goal plan by the council established a blueprint for economic development that will help Mr. Williams and the organization to move forward.
Meanwhile, dredging the port and connecting it to the mainland via a tunnel — vital infrastructure improvements — will make it easier to keep and attract international commerce. The port tunnel and Dolphin-Palmetto exchange will improve traffic.
As Mr. Williams noted after his selection, Miami is blessed with great educational institutions, “the backbone of economic growth.” The county school district won the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education last year, a distinction that should help attract businesses whose executives demand strong public schools.
Those are some of the pluses, but there’s bad news, too. The recovery has not been as strong here as elsewhere. More than half of the jobs added to the local economy since the recession began came from low-paying industries — including restaurants, retail and hotels. Fewer than 30 percent came from high-paying industries, with consulting, higher-education and hospitals leading the way.
Therein lies Mr. Williams’ challenge. He will find many willing partners in the pursuit of a stronger local economy. Miami does not have the wealth of large corporations based in Atlanta, where Mr. Williams last worked, but it has a spirited business community eager to improve local businesses and attract new payrolls.
His first task should be to continue the work of building bridges to business and elected leaders and the 30-plus municipalities and governments that have long felt neglected by the Beacon Council, continuing the work of Interim CEO Robin Reiter. The community owes Ms. Reiter a big thank-you for her energetic work during her stint at the helm of the council. Now it’s up to Mr. Williams.