By BECKY GILLETTE
Joseph P. Deason plans to take some of the best tactics learned working for General Motors (GM)-Delphi for 17 years, serving as chief financial officer of the Mississippi Development Authority for four years and his past four and one-half years as chief operating officer for the Golden Triangle Development LINK to his role as the new executive director of the Madison County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA).
“God bless the governor, the Mississippi Development Authority, and the State of Mississippi, but projects are won and lost at the local level because it is the locals who have the land, water, power, sewer and work force, and they are the ones who have to sell that to a prospect,” Deason said. “The state incentives help push those projects over the goal line. During the years at the LINK, I learned more in detail how to build a winning community and how to structure deals, be a problem solver not a problem creator, and be innovative.”
Deason, hired after a nationwide search, started work Oct. 1. MCEDA Board of Directors Chairman Lanny Slaughter said they are very excited hiring Deason.
“Joey’s experience in economic development at both a regional and state level combined with his level of leadership will ensure that MCEDA is both focused and accountable in working with industry and community leaders,” Slaughter said.
Madison County Board of Supervisors President David Bishop called it a “tremendous hire.”
Deason worked for MDA from 2006 to 2010, busy post-Katrina years that saw large economic development projects such as Toyota Blue Springs, Severstal Columbus, PACCAR and GE Aviation.
Following the MDA job, Deason worked for Schulz Xtruded Products based in Germany, which specializes in stainless steel pipes and extrusions for the aerospace industry. Then he got a call from Joe Max Higgins asking if Deason was interested in working putting together a regional alliance with Oktibbeha, Clay and Lowndes counties.
“I knew Joe Max as a stellar name in economic development work, plus I was getting to live in Starkville where I went to college,” Deason said. “I worked at the LINK for 4.5 years. That was my first foray into local economic development though I had done that kind of work at the state and private investment side levels. It was invaluable.”
One of the things he finds attractive about Madison County is that it has assets most of Mississippi struggles to attain.
“The school district is one of the top in the state, and the quality of life is phenomenal,” Deason said. “My vision includes building and developing product for Madison County–land, water, sewer, gas, electric–all the infrastructure items a company expects to have in place when considering a development.”
Deason said he plans to work to represent every citizen of Madison County.
“We are here to make your community a better place,” Deason said. “We want to create jobs so that you, your family and friends can live here and find quality jobs instead of moving out of state and creating the brain drain. When you think of Madison County, you think of Nissan and all the suppliers that came along with Nissan. Obviously, I do believe there is a great opportunity for existing industries and for our automotive suppliers. But we are interested in creating new product not just for automotive suppliers, but for advanced manufacturing as a whole.”
Each economic development prospect is different, but one common factor is the need to be able to hire a trained, educated work force. To help meet that demand, Deason wants Madison County to strive for being a Work Ready Community.
“One of the goals I want to accomplish is to create a Work Ready Community here and have people prepared and tested for a Career Readiness Certificate (CRC),” he said. “One of the takeaways I’m probably going to steal from the LINK is to work with the local schools to figure out a way to test all the juniors in high school who want to participate for the CRC. Not every person who graduates from high school is going to a two-year or four-year college. If we can work with local school districts to have those students prepped and tested as juniors, and figure out a way for them to take the basic manufacturing skills course at Holmes Community College, when they graduate from high school have they will those options in front of them.”
Just through natural attrition at Nissan Canton, the plant is hiring about 100 people a month. “There are opportunities out there that exist and they are good paying opportunities,” Deason said.
Deason said another focus will be to make sure that the MCEDA is transparent and open.
“Over the last year, the MCEDA board has focused on reinvigorating the organization and its success in job creation efforts,” said a press release announcing Deason’s appointment. “Cornerstones of this effort are strict fiduciary standards and increased communication with elected officials and the community regarding its activities. This is a priority of the board and staff. Moving forward with a new executive director, MCEDA is steadfast in its commitment to the strictest ethical standards and implementing the recommendations outlined in the organizational assessment providing a value proposition not only to industry but to the community as a whole.”
Deason said there have been some issues in the past including one with an airport study that caused some concerns. He plans to lead the organization with a focus on trust and communication to strengthen the community efforts and competitive position.
“A small example is beginning with the October meeting, once the minutes are approved the following month, they will be posted to our website for all to see,” Deason said.
Mississippi has seen some large industrial development project flops in recent years including the Stion solar panel manufacturing plant in Hattiesburg and the KiOR renewable fuels plant in Columbus. Both closed owning about $70 million in loans from the State of Mississippi. There are claw back provisions that may help reduce the state’s losses, but the failure of projects like those raises questions about public economic development financing.
Deason said it is important to make sure that deals are structured to protect the local investment.
“The locals being Lowndes County, Columbus and Port of Lowndes ended up making approximately $1.8. to $2 million on KiOR,” Deason said. “They didn’t lose in the deal and they got their land back. The way the deal was structured, you can protect the local investment. Locals have no control over the state contract, but what locals do have control over is the way the deal is structured locally. One of the things I learned was how to structure a deal that protects your local assets.”
Deason sees Madison County continuing to grow and prosper. “Right now, our future is bright and the sky is the limit,” he said.
For more information visit www.madisoncountyeda.com.