The announcement that Mark Drennen has been hired to lead Greater New Orleans Inc. (the new and improved Chamber-MetroVision) was no surprise. Rumors of his imminent arrival at the area's leading business group had been swirling in local corridors of commerce for more than six months.
Drennen brings a lot to the table, and his arrival should be greeted as good news.
Most know him as the state Commissioner of Administration under former Gov. Mike Foster, which may or may not look like a good thing on its face. Foster has been justifiably criticized for starting his lame-duck period right after taking the oath of office for his second term. Worst of all, Foster's biggest failures came in the area of economic development, which is precisely what Drennen has been hired to oversee at GNO Inc.
But transferring Foster's shortcomings to Drennen would be unfair and unfounded. Drennen produced some of the biggest success stories of the Foster years -- and he had nothing to do with Gov. Warbucks' penchant for thinking he could solve most problems from a duck blind.
Moreover, Drennen's record as commissioner shows he played a significant role in some of the most important economic development success stories of the past eight years. A big part of his job was drafting and shepherding the capital outlay bill through the legislative process. That means he was a major player in securing funds or assistance for Phase Four of the Morial Convention Center, the NBA Hornets, the Audubon Institute, the revised Saints package, Six Flags, the University of New Orleans Research Park, UNO's Maritime Center of Excellence, NOCCA/Riverfront's beautiful campus and Northrop Grumman (Avondale).
Using the capital outlay bill, he almost single-handedly rebuilt downtown Baton Rouge by tearing down some of the ugliest old state buildings and replacing them with classic Art Deco-style new ones -- bringing many state offices back downtown, close to the Capitol, and energizing the long-lethargic pace of downtown Red Stick.
Other accomplishments for which he can take at least partial credit include implementing various fiscal reform measures, most of which helped improve Louisiana's bond rating significantly. It was a quiet transformation, but Louisiana now has one of the most enviable bond ratings in the country, thanks in no small measure to Drennen's policies and actions as commissioner.
These things relate directly to the business climate of Louisiana, so he clearly "gets it" when it comes to the subject of economic development.
"Traditionally, the commissioner of administration only managed the budget, but my agreement with Governor Foster was that I would play a key role in the community and specifically in economic development projects," Drennen says. "I know economic development -- and I know specifically how it relates to the greater New Orleans region. My immediate strategy will be to focus on the National Finance Center, the Health Care workforce, Call Center outreach and support, Michoud/NASA, and legislative issues that plague the business community."
Sources say Drennen started out as a long-shot for the GNO Inc. job but consistently impressed interviewers with his grasp of the short-term as well as the long-term needs and goals of the group. He wasted no time getting started, too. He joined local business and political leaders last weekend at the Washington Mardi Gras Ball, where he reportedly was well received.
Above all, Drennen is not just another former government bureaucrat. He took the commissioner's job after spending eight years as president of the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), a statewide business-driven think tank. At PAR, he worked closely with business leaders across the state to make Louisiana more business-friendly. That's an ongoing process.
In his new role as president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., Drennen is returning to familiar territory while making a new home in the Crescent City.
- Mark Drennen, the new president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., clearly "gets it" when it comes to the subject of economic development.