In January, Miami-Dade commissioner Sally Heyman launched an effort for the Beacon Council, the county’s economic development agency, to spend $1 million of its budget year helping small businessses. The Beacon Council’s CEO at the time slammed the idea, calling it crippling for the agency, illegal and lacking “business sense.”
Ten months later, the Beacon Council has a new CEO, and Heyman no longer is pushing her proposal. Next week, she’ll headline a Beacon Council seminar on social marketing in her district that the tax-funded agency is promoting under the heading: “You’re invited to a Small Business Workshop with Commissioner Heyman.”
“They’re making great strides to reach out to small businesses,’’ said Heyman, who represents northeastern Miami-Dade. “I’m very optimistic.”
Heyman’s shift, from Beacon Council critic to guest seminar host, reflects the extended goodwill campaign underway by the non-profit as it tries to rebound from perhaps the most bruising stretch in its 28-year history. After ousting longtime CEO Frank Nero in March and still facing yearly financial losses, the Beacon Council hopes for a fresh start Thursday as a new chief executive and volunteer chairman set out to regain lost members and bolster the group’s political standing.
“Do I believe you can wipe the slate entirely clean? I do not,’’ said Sheldon Anderson, the Northern Trust executive who assumes the chairmanship of the Beacon Council at the group’s annual meeting Thursday at the Loews hotel in Miami Beach. “But the relationships all seem to be on the right footing for a new beginning.”
At the center of the Beacon Council’s fresh start stands Larry Williams, a soft-spoken former executive at Atlanta’s economic development agency who became Nero’s permanent replacement on Oct. 7. He’s pledging to put more effort into growing local companies, and to find ways for the Beacon Council to help new businesses form.
“What is it we can do to help grow that next generation of entrepreneurs here in Miami?” he said in a recent interview in the Beacon Council’s glass-walled conference room of Miami’s Brickell Avenue. “We need to look for a more contemporary approach to economic development.”
The non-profit, which received about $3.7 million this year from a special licensing fee charged businesses in Miami-Dade, is receiving praise for an outreach effort launched by interim CEO Robin Reiter, who took over after Nero’s forced resignation. Nero, who could not be reached Wednesday, was criticized for pushing back against commissioners trying to influence the Beacon Council and for inserting the organization in the debate on bringing casinos to downtown Miami — which Nero opposed but Gimenez favored.
After taking over, Reiter beefed up the use of elected officials’ quotes in Beacon Council press releases, expanded events into the western and southern areas of Miami-Dade, and began a series of free business seminars that feature different elected leaders prominently as the hosts (including Heyman’s Oct 29 event starting at 5 p.m. at the McDonald Center at 17501 NE 19th Ave.).
“I think the Beacon Council has taken some really positive steps,’’ said Lynda Bell, who serves as vice chair of the county commission and last year pushed to have Miami-Dade renegotiate its contract with the Beacon Council. “I think the future is bright.”