Elorza to Override Search Committee on New Providence Economic Director

Sunday, May 31, 2015


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Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is poised to name the city's new Economic Director -- and according to multiple sources, Elorza went against the wishes of the majority of selection committee members who voiced serious concerns about his pick for the post.

Slated to fill the vacant position since the departure of previous director Jim Bennett is Mark Huang, the co-founding partner of Novus Energy Partners in San Francisco, which was a "cleantech" venture capital fund.  According to Huang's LinkedIn profile, the fund is now closed. 

Huang would replace Bennett, who prior to being tapped for the post under previous Providence Mayor Angel Taveras in 2011, had served as the Chairman of the Rhode Island Convention Center and founded several startup and publicly traded companies and "worked in the highest levels of state government," according to Taveras at the time. 

Sources said of the five person selection committee that during discussions, members expressed concerns over Huang's lack of state government experience, working with municipal governments, and dealing with public sector unions.  

A Columbia University graduate and former Vice President at GE Financial Services and US Army Reserves officer, Huang lists experience in the "developing world to include SE Asia and a year in Baghdad, Iraq working on basic nation-building at the neighborhood level. Later transferred to the Green Zone to focus on the economic restructuring of Iraq's moribund State-Owned Enterprises and to develop programs to help stimulate the private sector."

Concerns Aired

According to two people close to the process, the majority of members thought Huang, while "smart and capable," was not the right choice -- with two who had "blatant, hard objections."

Elorza reportedly called committee members to thank them for their time, but that despite the objections, he was opting for Huang for the post.  

The new Economic Development Director will come at a time when the city is addressing a number of major development possibilities, including the PawSox stadium and street car proposals, while the city is faced with significant economic challenges. 

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Mark Huang

Elorza recently announced the findings of a report commissioned by Public Financial Management which shows that Providence has a structural deficit in the range of $11 to $19 million a year.

The qualifications for the $120,00 to $140,000 a year position posted by the city were as follows:

Mayor Elorza seeks an individual who understands the urgency of the mission and who can execute the Mayor’s vision for economic development in the City of Providence. With an emphasis on job creation and business retention, immediate priorities and opportunities include: 

* Coordination and maximization of a portfolio of economic development tools and resources against a clear development agenda

* Supporting the growth of small business across all neighborhoods

* Leveraging the City’s strong entrepreneurial, arts, and cultural assets to attract and retain investment

 * Maximizing the development of nearly 20 acres of prime real estate created through the relocation of I-195

* Using improvements to the City’s public transportation system to spur economic activity

* Alignment of workforce development and training programs City-wide that meet both the needs of residents seeking employment and those of employers

* Partnering with State officials to maximize incentives, align economic development strategies and more fully connect Providence to the regional economy

The Mayor's office did not respond to request for comment on Friday. 


Related Slideshow: Reactions to Mayor Elorza’s Inauguration Speech

Providence residents, community leaders, and elected officials turned out in the face of cold temperatures to hear Providence's newest Mayor, Jorge Elorza, give is inauguration speech at Providene City Hall on Monday, January 5.  

Read Mayor Elorza's speech HERE.

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Jim Vincent

"I thought it was great, it showed a lot of optimism. He has a plan. I think he knows the city, I like the fact he's a young guy - you'll need a lot of energy to move the city forward, and I pledge to work with him."

- Jim Vincent, NAACP Providence Branch President

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Sam Zurier

"I thought it was comprehensive.  It was thorough -- I iwas expecting a few themes, but he went into a lot of areas.  I look forward to working with him."

- Sam Zurier, Providence City Councilman

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Jo-Ann Ryan

"I'm excited to work with the Mayor and new council.  I love Providence.  I'm excited to have a new Mayor focused on arts, culture, recreation, which are all important to me.  He's got a wonderful vision, and I look forward to working with him."

- Jo-Ann Ryan, Providence City Councilwoman

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Seth Magaziner

"I thought it was excellent speech, I thought it laid out an ambitious agenda.  As a Providence resident, I think we need a Mayor who thinks about the big picture.  I thought he had good specifics.  The Treasurer's office being a financial office, I stand ready to assist the mayor's office and his team with the city's finances.  We have a lot of work to do, and I look forward to it."

- Seth Magaziner, Rhode Island General Treasurer

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James Diossa

"I'm very excited that the Mayor's taken on the job that was started by the previous administration.  I look forward to working with him, he's got new energy, ideas.  He's innovative, and looking for ways for the city to stand out and be successful."

- James Diossa, Mayor of Central Falls

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Kobi Dennis

"It was refreshing to say the least.  I liked that he had the community component, and I just thought people felt included.  He talked about some of the things that [former Mayor] Taveras was doing, but not in the beginning.  It's a new beginning, it's a new start."

- Kobi Dennis, Founder of Project Night Vision

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Nellie Gorbea

"It was great.  It's an exciting time for the entire state.  Having Mayor Elorza at the helm is important, because he's a leader, and leadership matters. I'm excited to work with him."

- Nellie Gorbea, Rhode Island Secretary of State

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Keith Oliveira

"I thought it was a powerful, visionary speech.  Much of what he's talking about is in line with what the school board is moving towards - neighborhood schools, arts education policies, so having [the Mayor's office] get behind that is great. Redirecting resources from central administration to the schools, we've been moving forward with our school autonomy policy, so much of what I've heard is in line with what we're trying to do."

- Keith Oliveria, Providence School Board President


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