Trey Grayson

Trey Grayson

Maybe Louisville’s citizens would be better off being proactive rather than allowing bad ideas to be foisted upon us.

Back in late 2011, when Joe Reagan departed as GLI CEO, Greater Louisville Inc. hired a recruiting firm— Greensboro, N.C.-based Jorgenson Consulting Inc. — to do a “global search.” At the time, the consensus among our insiders, whose identities we protect scrupulously, was, “Get someone local. But not from inside GLI.”

That search, which cost GLI $30,000-plus, brought to town one Craig Richard from Houston.

Richard lasted less than 14 months after GLI ran out of money … not Richard’s fault, but the legacy of years of Reagan’s profligate spending, including a $600,000 renovation of its Main Street offices, while the chamber of commerce’s membership decreased by one-third.

Last October, GLI cut or lost 10 of 46 employees, or 20 percent of its staff. The organization also released its 2012 Form 990, which stated GLI lost about $1 million that year, with $7.6 million in membership dues and other revenue, but $8.5 in expenses.

In order not to repeat that debacle, we started asking insiders what sort of people should be on the list in the interests of being proactive about our economic-development future.

What we found out is that former AT&T executive and GLI chairwoman Mary Pat Reagan is on the GLI short list, the leading candidate to replace Richard.

Chip Hamm

Chip Hamm

But we also introduced a name into the mix with the Monday Business Briefing, a person not likely to want the job, but of the caliber we should be looking for in an ideal world.

Trey Grayson, director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, is a former Kentucky secretary of state and one of a coterie of Kentuckians who went to top universities, then returned home. Grayson is leaving Harvard effective June. 1.

Chip Hamm floated Grayson’s name last week after we approached him as a possible candidate. In turn, Hamm countered with Grayson – his friend since college — as representative of the type of person Louisville should recruit. “This is just me talking as a citizen,” he said.

Through Hamm, Grayson declined to be interviewed for this post. In their conversation this weekend, Grayson reportedly cited ongoing job negotiations and opportunities.

Asked if Grayson might consider the GLI jobs, Hamm replied, “I think it’s possible, but we’d have to push ….”

Dealmaker Hamm, an attorney with Miller Wells in Louisville and a partner in several restaurant development efforts, said Grayson has three attributes essential for the leader of an economic-development agency.

“First, we need to be comfortable with someone smarter than we are, somebody who will shape the conversation, not take orders,” Hamm said. The next CEO of GLI is going to have to redefine — or at least define — the organization’s mission in 2014, a time when Mayor Greg Fischer and the Metro Council hold the keys to the kingdom in the form of a $950,000 economic-development contract.

(Insiders tell IL Fischer will discuss the GLI situation soon in a budget address. Stay tuned.)

That person will have to focus on bringing new ideas and new talent here, increasing the base of people in Louisville with not just expertise, but contacts to corporations and governmental leaders throughout the United States, Hamm said.

“That’s the first thing,” he said.

Second, the ideal candidate should, like Fischer, have top-echelon connections that run to not just to Frankfort, but to Washington D.C. and beyond, “because between Fischer and Grayson, is there anyone in the U.S. we can’t reach?”

Hamm pointed out Grayson had connections to networks of people who attended highly selective universities, as they’re now called, in Kentucky and across the United States.

In addition to eight years as Kentucky secretary of state, Grayson has served on boards of directors, public and private, with personal relationships with local business leaders.

Hamm noted that business formation is part of his practice at Miller Wells, and he credits Grayson for creating a better secretary of state website so companies can more easily access forms and data, as well as streamlining the process to register new companies in Kentucky.

Third, the person needs to be a consensus builder; “Someone who can reach across the aisle.” Grayson, a moderate Republican, may not please the hard right Tea Party factions, “but it helps not to be so political in business,” Hamm said.

A partisan politician isn’t a good fit for an economic development effort that must transcend politics, he said. “As long as I’ve known (Grayson), he’s been a consensus builder.”

Again, whether Grayson is interested is somewhat beside the point. Our effort should be to identify someone like him, “and those are the three attributes,” Hamm said. “We need to think big.”

Of course, if Louisville’s needs and Grayson’s needs intersect ….

Grayson’s parents lives in Northern Kentucky, as does his sister. His wife’s family is from Lexington, and his grandparents live in Paducah. So Louisville might work.

“I know he’s interested in politics,” Chip said. “but I don’t think he’s looking at elected office anytime soon. And I know he wants to get back home.

“Maybe we can steal him.”