Fischer moves job attraction efforts from GLI to city staff - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Fischer moves job attraction efforts from GLI to city staff

Posted: Updated: Apr 30, 2014 05:19 PM
GLI officials Steve WIlliams, Kerry Stemler, Eileen Pickett and Diane Medley GLI officials Steve WIlliams, Kerry Stemler, Eileen Pickett and Diane Medley
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer will end a longstanding arrangement in which Metro government outsources front-line economic development work to Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce, for about $1 million a year.

Starting in July, Metro government employees -- not GLI staff -- will deal with companies looking to move to Louisville or to expand their operations here by helping those businesses find sites and apply for state tax incentives.

The move will mean six jobs lost at GLI, though Fischer said he hopes the downsized GLI employees will apply for an unspecified number of new jobs created in Metro government.

Fischer said one benefit is that the same staff will help companies both move to Louisville and find land to develop for their work sites. The city’s real estate efforts are currently separate from GLI’s business attraction efforts.

“Within one organization we can give them everything they need to know about workforce, incentives, real estate options (and) potential partners within the city,” he said.

Fischer named Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, his deputy chief of staff, as the leader of the new effort called Louisville Forward.

The city money makes up about 13 percent of GLI’s roughly $7 million budget. Still, the move will have a neutral impact on the chamber’s finances, said Eileen Pickett, GLI’s interim CEO. That’s because GLI is also doing away with the expenses, including employees, associated with business attraction.

Fischer said the move won’t increase the city budget either, since the city can use the money it currently sends to GLI to fund the new Metro government jobs.

According to performance reports filed with the city, GLI was meeting goals for new jobs and investment under the contract. For example, in the fiscal year ended last June, GLI said it helped companies create 4,192 new jobs (goal: 3,750) with an average salary of $43,255 (goal: $40,000). It exceeded its goal of $200 million in new capital investment many times over -- $956 million.

Fischer did not directly answer whether he thought GLI was doing a good job, saying it’s been a “team effort” and that the city is looking to “optimize” its economic development efforts. The model he’s pursuing is similar to those in Atlanta and Chicago, he said.

“We have had some good results over the years and I am looking to see how we can maximize it moving forward,” he said.

GLI board chairman Kerry Stemler, owner of a construction company in southern Indiana, said the move will allow GLI to better focus on serving its members and helping them improve their businesses.

Though GLI was meeting the expectations of its contract with Metro government, “something needed to change” to accelerate Louisville’s growth, Stemler said.

“I believe (GLI) was doing the job it needed to do... But for Louisville, for this region to be all it needs to be, we need to move the ball… We needed to compete with our sister communities that are outpacing us,” he said.

Doug Cobb, a Louisville entrepreneur who was CEO of GLI in the late 1990s, said removing the economic development work was "probably the sensible thing for (Fischer) to do given the state of GLI" -- but it is a "sad" indication of the organization's declining profile.

"GLI as a whole has been essentially leaderless for two years and that can't sustain," he said. "A great deal of the talent has drifted away, and a great deal of support from the business community."

GLI has been looking for a new CEO since February following the resignation of Craig Richard after only a year on the job.

The organization has also struggled with financial issues. It laid off several senior executives last fall, and the most recent public tax returns show GLI ran a deficit in 2012.

Diane Medley, an accountant who is GLI’s incoming chairwoman, said the organization is now on a better financial footing and running a budget surplus this year.

“I am very pleased with what we have accomplished on the finances and I don’t feel any sense of worry or concern about the changes we’re talking about,” Medley said.

Cobb said GLI's open CEO position is now less attractive given the organization's narrower scope.

But Stemler said there is “significant interest” in the job and the organization is “close” to finding the right candidate. (Pickett has said she’s not seeking the job permanently.)

Stemler said he expects the new CEO, if not already living in Louisville, to have ties to the area. Richard had come from the No. 2 job at the chamber in Houston.

“We do stay focused on people that have a relationship with this community… If they are outside of Louisville, they have a connection. They have moved away and would want to come back,” Stemler said.

In addition to appointing Wiederwohl to lead to the Louisville Forward effort, Fischer has tweaked the roles and titles of other top staffers.

Jeff Mosley, the current director of economic development and expert in real estate deals, will become chief administrative officer of the new Louisville Forward agency.

Ted Smith, chief of the Metro Department of Economic Growth & Innovation, will become chief of civic innovation. His focuses will be entrepreneurship, workforce development, community data and technology initiatives.

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