I was working on a story in my office this past Wednesday when I received a call from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. I've been doing a lot of stories on immigration of late, and I thought that since the secretary is a Hispanic immigrant like me, that's what he wanted to talk about. Instead, we began chatting in English, Spanish and Spanglish about another pressing story.
He told me about a trade mission he's undertaking. That's where U.S. business leaders travel abroad to an emerging market to look for investment opportunities, not exactly the type of story I would be interested in, because it fits neatly into the "so what" category.
When I, just to be polite, asked what country, his answer both intrigued and astonished me.
He said, "New Orleans!"
"New Orleans?" I threw back at him. "How's that?"
He told me that never before has a U.S. trade delegation gone on a trade mission inside the United States, but if ever there's been a place in the United States that needed it, it's New Orleans.
Here's his explanation: Our government has spent tens of billions of dollars in the area, much of it misspent, and New Orleans still needs a lot of help.
Secretary Gutierrez, who quit his job as chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Kellogg to work for the government, and took a huge cut in pay to do so, is a big believer in private sector initiatives. And he's convinced that "big business has a better shot at saving New Orleans than big government."
That's why he's on a bus, traveling throughout the Gulf Coast. On board with him are executives from 32 of the most powerful corporations in the world, including Citigroup, Caterpillar, Marriott, Goldman Sachs, Shell, Home Depot, Dow Chemical, Disney and Wal-Mart, just to name a few. On "360," we will take you along for the ride.