"What the governments have done, I wouldn't denigrate, they're doing an absolutely wonderful job, but the private sector doesn't have any red tape, they can get in there, make decisions on the spot, it's done, it's there," said Kevin Lumb, one of the organizers of the conference that wrapped up Wednesday at Miami's Hotel Sofitel.
Planning projects, signing deals. It's time for business to be done in Haiti with two goals: make money and help Haitians help themselves. That's where the meeting, which they're calling a summit, comes into play.
It brought construction and engineering firms, security companies, medical supply companies, venture capital firms and officials from the U.S. government into the same room. Aid groups like Oxfam were also there so everyone could get a jump start on getting critical rebuilding projects underway, coordinating efforts to reduce duplication.
What's the top priority?
"A lot of infrastructure reconstruction, water, sewage, that sort of thing, that's a big issue, we have a lot of engineering firms here looking at making buildings that are more earthquake-resistant but are not more expensive," said Doug Brooks, another of the summit's organizers. "The reconstruction's going to be enormous. I think there's an important role for these companies, and keep in mind, they're going to be using Haitians to do most of the work."
James Judge runs Judge Construction Group out of Tampa. He just returned from a scouting trip to Haiti, amazed at the challenges ahead but confident his company could do a lot of work there, utilizing Florida-based subcontractors and Haitians for labor.
"We're not just looking to help ourselves," Judge said. "We want to help the people of Haiti, set up a training program where they're actually building buildings up to code, up to standard."
A company called Haitihouse.org touted its pre-fab, easy to set up, hurricane proof housing modules. They can be placed in groups, creating small villages, and even have bathroom modules that use solar energy and filters to recycle water. A quick, easy, relatively inexpensive way to provide housing that's infinitely better than tent cities or shanty towns.
"What impresses me the most," said Regine Barjon of the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce, speaking about the summit, "is not just the mix of private sector companies, but also the support we're getting from the U.S. Government." Representatives from the Departments of State, Commerce, and Defense were there.
The phrase "win-win" was heard a lot inside and outside the conference room.
"It absolutely should be, and if it's not a win-win for everyone then something's being done wrong. I think it's real important that we sit down with the NGO (non-governmental organization) community, with governments, and make sure we do this right," Doug Brooks said.
Jobs created here, jobs created there. One summit participant, a Haitian expatriate named J.P. Michel, said American and international aid can only take Haiti so far. Michel's firm is raising investment capital to fund public-private partnership projects, hoping to transform Haiti's economy along with its battered landscape.
"This is a boot-strap effort that they are providing to Haiti," Michel said about the international relief operations since the earthquake. "But at the end of the day, Haitians themselves will have to lead this, will have to take this on themselves."