Greater Louisville Inc. President and CEO Joe Reagan insists his decision to accept the top job with the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association has nothing to do with increased criticism of the agency.
The city’s chamber of commerce has been under intense scrutiny over the past year as a result of flat economic growth and job losses over the last decade.
A Brookings Institute study chastised the chamber’s economic growth claims, calling them “largely rhetorical.” Recently, former GLI President Doug Cobb slammed Reagan, saying he has “underperformed” and is “significantly overpaid,” earning about $370,000 per year.
Asked about his critics, Reagan said there are “players and spectators” but admits much more could have been done to change policy and there’s plenty left to do to get Louisville out of the recession, adding the city was pummeled by the national recession.
“Could we have pushed harder on change and challenged ourselves more? Probably. That’s probably true. It’s absolutely true. We could have done things differently, but if you look at the lost decade that lost decade happened in the last three years of this recession,” he says.
But economic reports paint a much different picture and show Louisville lost 35,000 jobs in the last decade before the economic downturn beginning in 2008.
Metro Government gives GLI about $1 million from the city budget and several critics have said the job loss numbers are enough to justify yanking that funding. City officials have taken more notice without necessarily blaming the chamber of commerce.
Mayor Greg Fischer has praised Reagan’s tenure and leadership, but his administration is currently reviewing the city’s economic development strategy and exploring possible changes. Over the summer, the Metro Council took a more critical approach and decided to review GLI’s progress before awarding the other half of its public funding before a review in January.
However, Reagan says the community has made serious strides during his tenure as GLI president and CEO and was integral in keeping Ford Motor Company and its two local plants in the city.
He says GLI was also successful in making education a centerpiece of economic growth.
“What I’m most proud of for Greater Louisville Inc. is as a business community we have made quantum leaps in education attainment, the issue for the business community, the community and the region at-large,” he says. “That means helping launch the 55,000 degrees initiative and helping fund the Everyone Reads initiativs. That we have been strong advocates for funding and for supporting public education and higher education…if we have that in place then the dynamics would change greatly.”
GLI Executive Vice President Tracee Troutt will serve as interim CEO GLI, but she told WFPL she is not interested in the job permanently.
The agency will create a committee of business and civic leaders who will conduct an “international search” to select a new CEO.
Reagan’s resignation will be effective January 26.