Miller leaving as head of city’s economic development agency

Rod Miller
Rod Miller

The head of the city-backed New Orleans Business Alliance said Friday he will step down later this month to take a similar job in Detroit.

Rod Miller, who became president and CEO of the city’s official economic development organization in 2011, has been tapped to become chief executive of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasi-public board that oversees revitalization projects in Michigan’s largest city.

The opportunity to help spur business growth in recession-battered Detroit was too good to pass up for the 36-year-old Miller, who described it as “a city that has tremendous promise and tremendous opportunity.”

The New Orleans Business Alliance was created in 2010 as a public-private partnership to take over responsibility for economic development efforts from City Hall, whose efforts had been widely criticized as inadequate.

Miller said he sees parallels between his current and future cities, noting that both New Orleans and Detroit have strong cultural and international ties, as well as “deep histories as places where industries thrived.”

“It definitely was not an easy decision, because I love New Orleans and all of the great things that happened there,” he added.

Looking back at his tenure, Miller said he is proud of the group’s growth from a fledgling start-up to an economic driving force with a multimillion-dollar budget.

Last summer, Miller helped launch ProsperityNOLA, a five-year strategic road map for growing key industries. The plan’s aim is to spur job growth while attracting new businesses and expanding existing ones. It calls for focusing on five areas that city and business leaders believe have the most opportunity for growth: advanced manufacturing, health sciences, creative digital media, sustainable industries, and transportation and trade.

“Being able to go to (other) markets and say, ‘Yeah, you might think it’s cool here, but in New Orleans, you can get quality of life.’ ‘Houston is great, but you can get to your office in 10 minutes in New Orleans, and we have great schools,’ ” Miller said when the plan was unveiled last year.

Leslie Jacobs, vice chairwoman of the board that oversees the alliance, said Miller made great strides in attracting retailers to the city, a major goal of the effort.

She credited him with getting the organization off the ground, “from finding an office and creating the power and administrative policies to hiring the team.”

“He led the (alliance) in creating the first very long-term strategic economic plan for the city,” she said, “ and that has really helped frame these key priorities and allowed synergy to take place between any of the other economic development organizations in this city.”

In a written statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu credited Miller with having “built a strong organization focused on job growth, creating wealth and building an equitable and sustainable economic future for New Orleans.”

City officials plan to conduct a national search for Miller’s successor, Landrieu said.

In the meantime, he said, Melissa Ehlinger, the alliance’s senior vice president of strategy and business development, will serve as interim CEO.

Ehlinger previously worked as a project manager for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.

“It’s a real opportunity for him,” Jacobs said of Miller’s new post. “Detroit is much larger; it’s a much larger organization and a significantly larger budget, but I would say a significantly larger challenge.”

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.