My Forever Friend

Some people are with you for a season, others for a lifetime. Carol Balthazar was a season who became my forever friend.

Looking back, I can see that our relationship was pre-destined by a higher authority that knew our collaboration would be tremendously powerful. In 1992, we both interviewed for a job with the Port of New Orleans. Our individual meetings must have impressed Port Chief Operating Officer, Dave Wagner. Instead of hiring either of us for the position, he suggested that we join forces in a partnership. He told us to figure out how his operation and its peers could spend more money with small businesses in New Orleans.

At that time, Carol and I were strangers but we instantly discovered the synergy that would sustain us.

Carol had been a high-ranking executive in New York. She was an excellent administrator who understood corporate protocols and corporate expectations regarding deliverables. I was a communications professional with expertise involving public relations, television news, event planning and writing for every media format. Partnering was an easy decision and we became the first supplier diversity consultants focusing on the $3 billion dollar maritime industry in New Orleans.

We named our company RiverWorks.

The Port had tried a similar program using in-house employees and their best efforts produced $80,000 in Port money spent with African-Americans, women and other disadvantaged businesses. RiverWorks increased that number to $32 million in spending with businesses that were classified as under utilized. This was a welcome boost in sales for the affected small business owners who had gained the Port or tenants at the Port as new customers.

We accomplished this growth by breaking down barriers that made the Port seem cold and prohibitive to non-traditional companies, such as the small businesses that were outside of the Port’s intimidating gates. RiverWorks brought small businesses inside those gates and taught them how to maneuver.

We hosted workshops and seminars to educate small business owners concerning procurement processes. Because we had our finger on the pulse of  grass roots New Orleans, we knew some of the best entrepreneurs were in the food industry. We hosted food tastings featuring minority and women caterers, which opened the door to financially lucrative contracts for these businesses.

RiverWorks published newsletters showcasing small businesses that secured work at the Port as well as with other maritime related entities.

To help the small businesses understand the world they were stepping into, we published a directory called “The Guide” that featured a glossary of maritime terms. This directory was actually a critical tool for the entire range of our target audience. A two-sided publication, The Guide was color-coded. The green section provided a listing of small businesses, including the services and expertise of each company. The blue section contained a listing of all the agencies within the Port as well as all the other operations that had a presence along the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

We assessed spending policies and practices, looking for impediments that hindered supplier diversity. RiverWorks recommended internal changes to the Port of New Orleans hierarchy, including the president and the board of directors. We attended pre-bid conferences and shared the criteria, deadlines and other vital information with the small business community. We served as business match-makers, connecting prime contractors to potential sub-contractors.

After eight years, I voluntarily left RiverWorks to pursue other interests. Later in 2004, my family left New Orleans and relocated to Alabama.

But I was so proud of the work Carol and I had done. We had diversified the pool of businesses that were vending with the Port and increased the flow of money into the small business community by  40,000 percent.

I  saw Carol for the last time at her funeral at St. Augustine Catholic Church in New Orleans on March 15, 2018. Knowing it was truly the last time I would ever see her, I experienced mixed emotions.

Did I break down at the service? No…and here’s why.

I concentrated on memories of that special time when we functioned as RiverWorks.

After battling cancer the last few years, Carol Balthazar’s season of life has ended but I will always remember her as my business partner and I will cherish her as my forever friend.