In the five years since he started Bernhard Capital Partners, former Shaw Group executive and founder Jim Bernhard has grown his latest business rapidly and is considering investing up to $5 billion more — but not if pressing issues facing Baton Rouge go unaddressed.
Bernhard Capital has invested $750 million into companies across the U.S., taking businesses that Bernhard thinks are good and helping them get better. This has led those businesses to increase their number of employees from 1,000 to 5,000.
Bernhard has aggressive plans for the future of his business, looking at investing $4 billion to $5 billion over the next three years. But he warned the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge Wednesday that unless things change in the city, he may cut back the size of his investments.
“Unless things change, we’ll be investing millions, not billions,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a good investment.”
The issues Bernhard pointed out as hurting business are familiar ones: Baton Rouge’s traffic problems, a lack of support for LSU and the city’s murder rate.
“It was a difficult decision to stay in Baton Rouge,” he said. “We’re here because we want to be here. There’s no other reason for us to be here.”
Baton Rouge’s problems make it difficult for Bernhard Capital to recruit employees. Recently, Bernhard said he had a hard time bringing in someone from out of state to work for his business because the recruit was concerned about the city’s crime rate. The catch is the person was from Chicago, a city with a notorious murder rate.
“Why would a Fortune 1000 company come here? Education is an issue, infrastructure is a problem, crime,” he said. Louisiana’s generous incentive programs to encourage economic development are “nothing” for a big business against such pressing issues.
Bernhard encouraged Rotary members to get involved by making contributions to LSU, pressuring elected officials to fix roads and taking steps to make the community safer. He noted that if 100 people would call up their Metro Council member and tell them to fix the roads or call LSU President F. King Alexander and ask what they can do for the college or call East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and say the number of murders needs to go down, then some change will happen.
Bernhard, who briefly headed the Louisiana Democratic Party in 2005 and whose name has been floated for political office, said he’s not running for anything.
“I’m no longer going to be 100 percent concentrated on moving my business forward. Now, I’m going to concentrate on moving the community forward,” he said.