Austin Beutner has a job description that is daunting: make Los Angeles the most business-friendly city possible while adding jobs to the local economy.
No small task during a severe recession and in a city notorious for its red tape and standoffish attitude to the private sector.
But in choosing an investment banker with solid Wall Street credentials but no local government experience to be his first “jobs czar,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa bet last week that it’s an outsider who can best shake things up at City Hall.
As might be expected from a businessman who until just a few weeks ago hadn’t even considered such a position, Beutner so far has few specific prescriptions to fix what’s wrong with the city – be it tax cuts, regulatory reform or any number of other initiatives.
But the 49-year-old L.A. resident comes across as energetic, optimistic and in grasp of a set of principles that will guide his actions.
“We serve business and that’s what people inside City Hall need to understand,” Beutner told the Business Journal during an interview last week at his City Hall office, still with bare white walls. “They’re our customers, and we need to improve our customer service. We need to push along better communication.”
Better communication probably wouldn’t be a bad start for many business people – about three-quarters of whom feel unappreciated, neglected and even harassed by city bureaucrats, according to a November survey by the Los Angeles County Business Federation, a business advocacy group, also known as BizFed.
But it’s going to take a lot more than better communication.
The city’s unemployment rate is at a whopping 13.4 percent, and it’s been hit with high-profile economic setbacks – including the recent announcement that Northrop Grumman Corp. would be moving its headquarters from Century City to the Washington, D.C., area.
There’s also been the constant wrangling at the Port of Los Angeles, where the city and trucking industry are in a battle over a ban on independent owner-operator drivers that is seen as a union-backed measure to open the door to the Teamsters.
“He’ll only be successful if he gets everyone to cooperate with his vision,” said David Fleming, an attorney at Latham & Watkins and founder of BizFed, who does not know Beutner. “He has to not only win over businesses, but also the policymakers within City Hall, of which he is now a part of, and that could be just as tough, if not worse.”
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