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CANDIDATE FOR SHREVEPORT

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Aug. 7, 2022 (versions published by the Shreveport Times and other media)

Economic Development: It Takes a Whole City

“The best thing you could do for recruiting businesses to come to Shreveport would be to
clean up the city.”

That was part of my conversation with an economic development professional while Elizabeth and I were out getting signatures on

my nominating petition. I followed up to find out why the professional said that. 

Companies seeking to locate or relocate to Shreveport do not just make appointments. They frequently send unannounced advance

teams to look at the City, its infrastructure, its neighborhoods. They have already gathered the demographic and tax information they

need. And they are not looking for the recruiting tour.

If they do not like what they see, we likely never will know they have been here. I suspect we have missed quite a few, and that was the

point the professional was making.

Another way to put this is to ask whether the City is doing the basic things well – keeping streets and rights-of-way clean and well-

maintained, attacking decay and neglected buildings, enforcing property standards and “care of premises” requirements like yard

maintenance. I can tell from my interactions with you that most of you do not think it is. I agree with you.

On taking office, I will immediately turn to devoting more City resources to litter abatement, cleanup, and enforcement of property

standards. To find additional resources I plan to start with the Executive Office of the Mayor. I plan to reduce the personal staff of the

Mayor to set an example for all City officials. It must start from the top.

What about jobs themselves? The City has access to two different “ponds” to fish for jobs. One is the obvious – the huge pond of

recruiting large manufacturing and distribution firms. The other is the local pond, often ignored.

Most of the fish in the huge pond get caught through professional and government assistance at multiple levels. Those are the kind of efforts that led to the Western Electric plant, the General Motors plant, and similar big fish. Typically those fish start at Louisiana Economic Development or the Legislature, or the federal government, with assistance from highly professional staffs at organizations like the North Louisiana Economic Partnership. 

While a mayor has a role to play catching the big fish, it is almost always a supporting role, not the lead. As Mayor of Shreveport, I will give my best attention, attitude, and salesmanship to support large employer recruitment. We must pay attention to the big fish, but we cannot depend only on big fish.

The most ignored job creator in the City of Shreveport is the local owner of a small business. He or she must feel like the mobile phone, periodical, or streaming subscriber who watches all the good offers go to new subscribers. “What about me?”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses, not Leviathans, developed 12.9 million net jobs over the last 25 years. That accounts for two of every three net jobs added to the U.S. domestic economy. 

Many small business owners have expressed to me their frustration at how difficult it is to do business in Shreveport. They wonder if their businesses might thrive better in another location. Some of them have moved.

As Mayor, I will create a task force to work with the Shreveport-Bossier African American Chamber and the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce and to identify the obstacles and impediments to doing business in Shreveport and to remove them. Business owners and new businesses must find a friendly, welcoming attitude at the City. 

Local businesses feed local families, and the profits from local businesses stay in Shreveport. They deserve the City’s full attention. That starts at the top. Local business leaders and owners will have the ear of Mayor Tom Arceneaux to make sure the City is doing all it can to support local job retention and expansion. 

Entrepreneurs are a special breed of business creator. They take a dream, make it an idea, then a reality. Working with organizations like BRF, the Louisiana Startup Prize, and the Small Business Development Center, the City can inform and encourage entrepreneurs to make their dreams become a reality.

The private sector is and should be the primary job generator in Shreveport, but the City can either facilitate job creation and expansion or it can get in the way. It is time for the City to get out of the way and start facilitating.

Economic development really is the job of every Shreveporter. What we say, how we do, how we describe our City, either draw business and development or push it away. It takes us all, and I hope you’ll help me move us forward to a new prosperity.

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Jan. 5, 2020

Questioning Conventional Wisdom

A new year and a new decade give us the opportunity to look toward the future and to question whether we are headed in the right direction. I have been partial to the

conventional wisdom since I served on the Shreveport City Council from 1982-1990.

I had questions about tax breaks for “home run” economic development, but the “powers that be” convinced me that “everybody did it” and the breaks were what it took to attract

large industrial and other projects to the area. I accepted as true that expanding Shreveport’s city limits through annexation was the way to grow the City’s tax base, and that just about any development was a good development.

Today, I am not so certain that I was right. I’m also not so certain I was wrong. It is time to ask hard questions and seek hard, objective data to find answers.

We all have “confirmation bias.” That is, when we believe what the facts are, we find it easy to interpret new information in a way that confirms our existing beliefs or theories. Just check your social media outlets for hundreds of examples each day. Unfortunately, if we are wrong, we are doubling down on our mistakes.

In 1996, I was a part-time Assistant City Attorney for Shreveport. A group of sports enthusiasts, who had significant experience in that area, primarily the late Orvis Sigler, the late Carl Pierson, and Mike McCarthy, proposed a Shreveport Bossier Regional Sports Authority. When Bossier City was reluctant to contribute to the authority, the proposal transitioned to the Shreveport Regional Sports Authority.

Then Shreveport Mayor Bo Williams asked then City Attorney Jerry Jones to put together the economic development plan and City Council approval required under state law and the City charter. Jones asked me to prepare the plan, assisted by City staff.

In September, 1995, a study by ZHA, Inc., and MRA International,  Inc. commissioned by the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau had identified youth and amateur sports event promotion (as opposed to professional athletic teams) as a tourism marketing niche for the region that could enhance economic development and put “heads on beds.” The proposal backers believed this was a good step for the community, and I believed the backers.

The plan used the data from the ZHA/MRA report and other information from the Tourist Bureau to project economic impact. The budget anticipated contributions by the City of $185,000 in 1996, $270,000 for each of 1997 and 1998, and $85,000 for 1999. After that, the proposers anticipated the Authority would be self-sustaining based on event fees, ticket sales, and related income, as well as an endowment fund created by part of the first three years of City contributions.

At the time the matter went before the City Council, I believed the projections were good, and that the anticipated results justified the public investment. As it turned out, the SRSA never became self-sustaining. The Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission, an arm of the Tourist Bureau, now performs the function of SRSA. The Sports Commission budget for 2019 included $677,405 in hotel-motel occupancy tax receipts from the hotel-motel occupancy tax increase approved by Caddo and Bossier voters in 2015.

This example is not to suggest that either SRSA or the Sports Commission, or the public funding of either of them, is a bad idea. It is to suggest that in times of increasing public liabilities and diminishing public assets, sometimes the best thing to do is to step back and attempt to evaluate past predictions in light of present realities when considering new proposals.

 

Some of the questions we should ask about any proposed project that claims “economic development” as its justification include:

  • What is the public investment?

  • What is the real cash return to the public investor in terms of tax revenues and direct cash benefits to the public investor (as opposed to the “general public”)? What is the return on the public investment?

  • What are the future liabilities assumed by the public in connection with the project?

  • Are the “jobs” or housing units included in the project completely new jobs or population, or do they merely move people from one part of the community to the other?

  • What are the negative collateral impacts, if any, and what is the strategy to deal with those?

One lesson we should learn from the EPA consent decree is that additional infrastructure requires extensive future maintenance that the original projections rarely account for. We must act like we are on the tight budgets we face.

Nov. 30, 2016

It Can Be Done

Setting public priorities has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried or abandoned. 

The late Judge Tom Stagg had a quote posted above his chair. The quote, from G.K. Chesterton, said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

In the 40 years since I first saw that quote, I have found that it applies to many different circumstances.  Setting priorities for a government’s limited resources is one of them. 

Setting priorities for a city government is difficult because almost nothing that the city does is bad in itself.  Most government programs and projects are well-intended and, at least in part, carry out their intended purposes.  Moreover, there are always projects and programs that seem worthy of public investment, so that the appetite for public expenditures is insatiable. 

However, when faced with limited resources, citizens, and even office holders, can agree on priorities by comparing one project or program to another to determine which has the greater public purpose or priority.  In fact, the Shreveport City Council tried this very approach for a short time in the late 1980s.

Between 1982 and 1986, the City of Shreveport enjoyed prosperity.  Oil prices were up, and the City benefited from millions of dollars in federal revenue sharing funds.  It seemed that the City never had to say no.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the federal government ceased federal revenue sharing ($4 million a year), and in the early part of 1986, the price of oil dropped from $40 dollars a barrel to $10 dollars a barrel within about 90 days.  The impact on the local economy was devastating. On top of that, the city lost about $2.5 million a year in state tobacco tax revenues.

Faced with a fixed tax regime that limited revenues, the City Council looked for a rational means of making priority decisions on a fixed income. 

Zero-based budgeting was one possible approach.  In ZBB, all expenses must be justified for each new period.  However, in any given year, a city will pick up the garbage on some schedule, will provide some measure of police and fire protection, and will perform some level of street and park maintenance.  Any zero start is a myth.

Instead, the Council adopted a process of modified ZBB.  The budgeting body assumes that the city will provide a certain base level of services.  Change will be on the margins. 

The City Council adopted policies that required the budget to be presented with certain “decision packages” that involved cuts that could be made in each department if the department had 10% less funding and additions that could be made if the department had 5% more funding.

For the 1989 budget, then Mayor John Hussey submitted a “Citizens Response Form” that allowed citizens to rate and rank specific service levels to help the Council set priorities and adopt a balanced budget. For example, the first “decision package” would reduce garbage pickup from twice weekly at the back door to twice weekly at the curb. Implementation would have eliminated 115 city jobs at an annual savings of $1,450,000. 

There were 16 other service level priorities, with a total possible reduction of $4,393,200. The target reduction was $1.4 million, but the city anticipated that an additional $2 million in cuts might be needed in 1990.

Once citizens are educated about real choices, they either will be satisfied with the level of service that the current revenues can provide, or they can be motivated to vote for increased revenues. 

Only the executive branch has the leverage and information to develop possible service change alternatives. The Council can ask for, but cannot compel, compliance. A 1990 Charter amendment prohibited the Council from instructing the Mayor how to present the budget. The Council does not have the information or resources to develop the choices independently.

Setting priorities is hard work. However, individuals, businesses, and families face those hard decisions every day. It is not unreasonable to expect government to make the same tough choices 

Only when there is a commitment from the executive branch to facilitate transparency in options and the discipline to lay them out can government educate its citizens about the real choices they face. 

Let us again try the difficult.

Nov. 4, 2014

Glitz May Sell, but It Doesn’t Pick Up the Garbage

 

Glitz might not be the best thing to look for in a candidate.

            We now have a runoff between two able candidates for Mayor.  The tendency for all of us is to look for some grand solution and giant ideas that make us excited. 

            The truth is, municipal government isn’t glitzy.  It is intimate.  It is daily.

            Shreveport city government delivers water to the house and carries away waste.  It keeps streets and drains in good repair (or doesn’t).  It picks up and disposes of (or doesn’t) garbage and trash. It enforces (or doesn’t) ordinances that prevent blight and restore neighborhoods.  It arrests criminals, prevents fires and helps those caught in fires and medical emergencies. 

            I say all this as a prelude to my criteria for my vote for Mayor of Shreveport. I believe we need to look beyond glitzy ideas (often with glitzy price tags that haven’t been explored or are beyond the City’s current financial abilities) to, in the words of the famous Firestone ads, where the rubber meets the road.

            Ideas do not lead, people do.  The first thing I am looking for is a person with deep and broad relationships in the community.  One does not lead with speeches and ideas.  Without relationships and people who can influence other leaders, ideas fall flat and disappoint the citizenry. Relationships build ownership. Ownership gets results.

            A mayor also needs to be able to build support within the City Council. I had the privilege to serve on the Council while John Hussey was Mayor. Mayor Hussey was not glitzy, but he was amazing at garnering Council support for his initiatives. He always controlled the agenda, and he constantly kept the Council informed and sought its input in formative stages of ideas. That way he could build a coalition for his ideas. We need a mayor who can do that.

            A city can have all the tax and other incentives for job creation, but if its streets are not well maintained, if it is throttled by traffic, if its water and sewer and drainage infrastructure is in ill repair, if its trash stays on the streets, if its neighborhoods are deteriorating, the citizens of the city do not become its advocates. Visitors and potential employers can sense feel the pessimism of the crapehangers. 

            The ability to assemble a competent staff, starting with a chief administrative officer that meets the requirements of the City Charter, is important to me. What are the two remaining candidates looking for in a CAO? If they are not looking for someone like former CAO Tom Dark, that should raise questions.

            Does the candidate have significant public body experience? Sometimes it is easy to say that government should be run like a business only to find that many statutes prohibit running government like a business. Is a candidate quick or contemplative with answers? If all the answers were easy or clear, the City would have acted on them long ago.

            No candidate, no mayor has all the answers.  Every mayor has both formal and informal advisors.  Who is in the inner circle of the remaining mayoral candidates?  When there are really tough questions, to whom will the mayor turn for advice?  Do I trust the trusted?  Do I believe that the candidate’s inner circle has the experience and judgment to render solid advice? Do I believe that the candidate’s inner circle has personal or other agendas that might interfere with the advice the mayor would receive?

            Frequently, trusted advisors are also financial supporters.  Some financial supporters expect nothing but good government and a particular political philosophy. Others, however, have an agenda and expect patronage or support as a result of their contributions.  Who are the financial backers of the candidates, and are they the kind of people who give money with strings attached or not? Do they have a large personal stake in public policy decisions?

            We face an important decision for the City’s future.   Look past the glitz to substance, relationships and executive skills.  Those, more than anything else, will determine how well Shreveport does in the next four years.

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