New Orleans' 'trash king': How private entrepreneurs can help the public
They called him "Trashanova."
It was a fitting moniker for a man who made millions in the waste-management business, cleaning up his native New Orleans during the post-Katrina years.
The "trash king," Sidney Torres IV, fully embraced social entrepreneurship last year, when he launched a business to help the city clean up its streets of violent crime. It's something he thinks more business leaders should do.
"There was a storm brewing, and it wasn't a hurricane," Torres told CNBC, reflecting on the crime wave he witnessed in New Orleans' French Quarter in 2014, when violent crime jumped 40 percent.
Things reached a tipping point for Torres when he was alerted on a business trip that robbers had broken into his own home while his fiancee slept. "I'm thinking to myself, 'This is my home; this is our home; this is where we live. Why isn't the mayor doing anything?'"
After Torres' calls to the mayor's office went unanswered, he decided to run ads calling out the issue. It prompted a challenge from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who called for Torres to "take some of [his] money and do it himself."
So he did.
Using $500,000 of his own money, Torres oversaw the creation of the French Quarter Task Force, an app dubbed "the Uber of policing" that connected residents with a force of off-duty New Orleans police officers paid to take shifts patrolling the neighborhood in utility vehicles.
The system made it easier for community members to provide tips and report crimes. After active patrolling began in March 2015, violent crime fell 45 percent for the quarter, and 15 percent on the year, according to local police statistics.
"The government will do its job, but don't expect them to carry out and solve problems," Torres said. "The government needs to work with private individuals because I think we can do so much more together as a private-public partnership, just like the crime app."
Thanks to an increase in tax revenues, Louisiana state troopers are increasing active patrols, and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau has since taken over funding the task force.
But that doesn't mean Torres has stopped contributing. In June, he invested $100,000 to upgrade the patrol vehicles to modified Smart cars and oversaw the creation of a "war room" to monitor crime and the performance of officers.
"One of the reasons I like private [solutions] is because I am looking at my bottom line," he said. "I'm not looking at what's politically correct. I'm not looking at what makes sense in how I am going to get to my next office or who's going to vote for me so I can keep my job as a politician."
Coincidentally, Landrieu's term ends in 2018, and Torres is said to be considering a run of his own. Until that decision is made official, "Trashanova" is returning to the trade that first proved profitable. With the noncompete clause from selling his waste business in 2011 expiring in June, Torres is launching a new waste-management company, IV Waste, slated to begin serving private customers in early August.
"Business leaders should get involved — not just financially involved, but get their hands dirty and find a cause to help out," he said. "I think it's important."
Look out for Torres in a new CNBC primetime series coming in 2017.