New Beacon Council leader hints at a name change

Will the new chairman of the Beacon Council also be the last chairman of the Beacon Council?

Sheldon Anderson raised that possibility Thursday shortly after accepting the chairman’s gavel of the tax-funded economic organization. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants to drop “Beacon Council” in favor of a name tied to Miami, and Anderson strongly hinted that idea was worth considering in his remarks at the group’s annual meeting.

“Today, this organization’s name is the Beacon Council,’’ said Anderson, a bank executive and third-generation Miami native. He punched up the word “today” in his delivery, and afterwards said the emphasis was intentional. While he said he hasn’t decided whether to endorse a name change, Anderson said he was open to the idea. “I am listening,’’ he said.

About 500 people attended the $150-a-plate luncheon at Miami Beach’s Loews Hotel that unofficially closed what may be the roughest year in the Beacon Council’s 28-year history. Under pressure from Gimenez and several county commissioners, the Beacon Council board in March ousted its longtime CEO, Frank Nero, and then fended off calls for a local replacement. Instead, the Beacon Council hired Larry Williams, a former executive at Atlanta’s economic development group who made his official debut as the closing speaker Thursday.

Williams said Miami’s appeal as a nice place to live positions it well for not only recruiting new busineses, but also for attracting more high-skill workers sought by companies.

“Having a place where people want to be is really an important part” of attracting companies and workers, he said. “People aren’t so much looking for jobs. People are looking for places.”

The non-profit has a contract to serve as the economic development agency for Miami-Dade, making it the coordinator of tax incentives and subsidies for businesses looking to add local jobs through relocations or expansions. It is funded through a fee added to a busines tax charged throughout Miami-Dade. Last year, the added tax amounted to about $3.7 million, making up nearly 80 percent of the Beacon Council’s $5 million budget. Dues and sponsorships make up the rest, and the group counts about 200 businesses and non-profits as members.

Gray Swoope, head of Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, served as the event’s keynote speaker. He said that while on trade missions abroad, he has found Miami moving beyond its reputation as a place where Latin America does business.

“I used to think, when I first started the job, that Miami was kind of like the Hong Kong of Latin America. But then I realized that’s not really true,” he said. “Miami is truly an international center of commerce and business. Not just for Central America and South America. But for the world.”

In his remarks to the luncheon, Gimenez did not address the name change issue. But in an interview this week, he derided the Beacon Council brand as baffling. “Miami is the brand,’’ he said.

Changing the name has been considered and rejected by the Beacon Council in the past. The brand comes from its founding in 1985 as a “beacon” for the community by attracting new jobs and economic growth, said Robin Reiter, a former chairwoman of the who served as the group’s interm CEO after Nero. In an email Thursday, she wrote: “Over many years the issue of the name keeps coming up for discussion – and each time a focus group is created to address the issue, it appears that the name does indeed have recognition—having now been in place for over 25 years. What it most likely needs is a good tagline!”

Anderson, the retired head of Northern Trust’s southeast division who replaces Joe Pallot as chairman, only devoted a sentence of his remarks to the Beacon Council’s name. But his address emphasized the need for the Beacon Council to be more responsive to suggestions from county leaders and others. He takes over as the Beacon Council is recovering from several confrontations in late 2012 and early 2013 with Gimenez and commissioners over accusations it was ignoring their directions and their districts.

“It’s so important that we listen,’’ Anderson told the audience.

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