By Anthony McAuley | | August 23, 2022

A New Orleans-based commodities and fuel storage firm has given The Nola Coalition advocacy group a donation of $1 million, the alliance’s largest contribution so far as it campaigns for a new strategy to deal with violent crime in the city.

International-Matex Tank Terminals’ Chief Executive Carlin Conner said his firm decided to contribute and to get involved directly in the program because it sees crime as a primary obstacle to the city reaching its full economic potential.

IMTT was lauded by Gov. John Bel Edwards and others when company officials decided in 2020 to stay in the city. Instead of moving the national headquarters to Houston after its purchase that year by Riverstone Holdings, a private investment group, for $2.7 billion, it moved its Texas central office operations to New Orleans and kept its headquarters on Poydras Street in the Central Business District.

‘Embrace the city’

“We ended up deciding to leave the headquarters in town and embrace the city,” said Conner, who said that the downtown office now consists of about 100 people, which includes both locally recruited staff as well as those who relocated from out of state.

Founded in 1939 in Avondale by James J. Coleman Sr., IMTT was sold by the Coleman family in 2014 for $1 billion to a division of the Australia-based banking and commodities giant Macquarie Group, who then sold it to Riverstone. Dathel Georges, who owns The Times-Picayune with her husband, John, is a member of the Coleman family.

Conner moved to the city from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to run IMTT after the takeover.

“The new folks, we’re kind of learning the lay of the land here, and that background helps to explain why we decided to get involved with organizations like the Business Council (of New Orleans and the River Region) and the Metropolitan Crime Commission, and the recognition that crime is a major issue for New Orleans,” he said.

That has now led to the involvement with The Nola Coalition, which was formed last month by a broad group of businesses and civic groups. The group has argued that direct action is needed from the community to stanch the violent crime surge and bolster the fast-depleting ranks of the NOPD.

GNO Inc., the regional economic development agency, is the convener of the various organizations that now include more than 230 businesses and more than 160 diverse civic organizations, including the NAACP, The Artists of Frenchmen Street, Fix Nola and Voices of the Victims of Crime.

The aims of the coalition are two-fold. It is pushing for more resources for the police and prosecutors, including more money to recruit staff and — controversially — the use of more surveillance technology for crime detection and prevention. Also, it is seeking to raise at least $15 million over the next three years to be spent in various community outreach programs designed to direct people toward productive endeavors and away from crime.

Conner said that $150,000 of IMTT’s donation will go towards funding GNO Inc’s staffing and administration over the next three years as it lobbies for better policing and monitors the coalition’s progress.

The remaining money will go toward community outreach groups. Conner said that they plan to choose a handful of community organizations from among the coalition’s membership.

“In addition to just writing the check we want to work with some of the smaller community groups that have proven success but need to scale up,” he said. “We want to use our talents and our employees want to be involved.”

Since the decision was made to locate IMTT in New Orleans “we’ve been paying attention and trying to figure out what is going to be our passion here, and we’ve decided that youth services is the area of greatest need,” Conner explained. “A lot of these kids don’t have great mentorship, they may have incarcerated parents and can’t break the cycle of violence. If we can make a difference and turn some of these kids around and they can go on to be productive and happy citizens, that’s great. It’s also good for business.”

Michael Hecht, president and CEO of GNO Inc., said he sees the IMTT contribution as representative of “a new generation of philanthropic leadership” in the city, one that is more deeply involved in the issues and active in the response.

GNO Inc. has been sending out weekly dispatches about progress since The Nola Coalition launched in mid-July. In the latest update, it notes that City Council member JP Morrell is pushing for aggregation of criminal justice data to see trends in real time; also, that the NOPD is continuing its efforts to recruit a chief administrative officer or chief operating officer to lead efforts to “civilianize” some of the tasks of the police force.

On the community outreach side, the latest report said so far $2.25 million has been raised out of a goal for the first year of $5 million.

“This local investment (from IMTT), combined with our anticipated national fundraising success, means that the coalition is well positioned to meet and exceed its $15 million three-year goal,” Hecht said.