The Madison County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA) has a new executive director. Joey Deason has a degree in accounting from Mississippi State University, and he is a graduate of Ethel High School in Attala County. Deason has worked for General Motors for 17 years in Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Michigan. He’s also worked as chief financial officer of the Mississippi Development Authority, president and chief executive officer of Schulz Xtruded Products, and chief operating officer of the Golden Triangle Development Link. Deason and his wife, Annette, have a daughter, Hayden, who lives in Jackson. Sun Staff Writer Megan Phillips spoke with Deason about MCEDA, its past accomplishments, and its future goals.

Where were you before you came to Madison County?
“I worked for the Golden Triangle Development Link. It’s a regional economic development organization that is comprised of Oktibbeha County, Lowndes County and Clay County… It’s basically the eastern central portion of the state. I worked there for about four and a half years.”

What made you take the position at MCEDA?

“To be honest with you, I was extremely happy there. My wife had a job there in Columbus working for a company called Logista, which is a computer hardware company. She’s the human resources director there. I had been approached in the past on other jobs in general, and there have been jobs in and out of the state. None of them attracted me; none of them made good sense to me. I was approached about the job here at MCEDA, and it sounded very interesting for a lot of reasons.”

What were the main reasons?
“Number one, you’ve got a great community — the quality of life is outstanding, the school district is great, you’ve got an existing manufacturing base here with Nissan and all the other industries as well. It’s near Jackson, you’ve got an airport, my daughter lives here, and I have relatives that live here as well… It just made sense that if I was going to move, this might be the place to at least interview. I went through the interview process, I was lucky enough to make it to the next cut, and then finally, obviously, a decision was made to make me an offer… It’s worked out. I’m glad to be here…”

How does the Golden Triangle compare to Madison County?

“In a perfect world, if you could take the Golden Triangle and Madison (County) and move them together, it would be outstanding… The schools, the quality of life, the shopping (is in Madison County)… but what the Golden Triangle has that we don’t have here is a lot of product. When I say product, I mean land, water, sewer, gas, fiber, electrical, roads, etc.
“For example, the job that I just left had approximately 6,000 acres that they either own or control. There’s not that much property here that’s available, and the property that is here and available is a little more pricey than the rural area that I just left from…”

Do you see any challenges ahead?
“My challenge here is going to be, you’ve got all the millennials’ desire, love and company as they move forward, which is the quality of life, education, etc. I’ve got to build product; I’ve got to get a more robust product put together, a plan, a strategy to start putting deals together so we can get some new jobs and new investments here.”

How would you do that?
“One of the ways of doing that is using your existing industries. I don’t want to call it low-hanging fruit, but I’m going to call it low-hanging fruit just by nature of the business. Those are the things we’re going to go after, because, at the end of day, your existing industries should be your loudest cheerleaders. They should be talking about how good this economic development organization is, and that’s the goal… I want them to be a louder cheerleader for us and our organization.”

The low-hanging fruit, can you give me some examples on that?
“Obviously, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is Nissan. They’re a large (original equipment manufacturer). You’ve got tier one suppliers, tier two suppliers, and you may have tier three suppliers. Just by virtue of having somebody like Nissan here, you’re always going to have the opportunity for suppliers to locate.”

What is the current relationship between Nissan and MCEDA, and MCEDA and other Madison County businesses?
“We as an organization here need to develop better relationships with Nissan, better relationships with the suppliers, because it allows you to do more than one thing. For example, if we have a good relationship — MCEDA, Nissan and the suppliers — really a true working relationship, they’ll let me know if they’re having workforce labor issues with regards to getting people hired. That’s when this organization can be the group that says, ‘We hear you. We understand you’re having labor shortages. Let’s work with the community colleges. Let’s work with the high schools. Let’s work with the community to develop a workforce development plan that’s more robust to fill those gaps.’ Because, the happier they are, the more in-tune and likely they are to create more opportunities here.”

What’s the relationship like now with Nissan and suppliers?
“With Ken Oilschlager being the interim — he’s only been here a year, plus — and he was put into a precarious position, because, I think the way it started out was, ‘You’re going to be here three months.’ Now, when you start that type of leapfrogging, there’s a set of plans and priorities that you have for three months. And then in three months, ‘Well, you’re getting another three months.’ ‘Well if I’d known I was going to have six months, I would have looked at it differently.’ So basically, I think the organization here has done an outstanding job with what they’ve had so far. They don’t have enough resources here, manpower.”

How much manpower does MCEDA need?
“For example, my regional organization that I worked at, GTR, it is very comparable population-wise to Madison (County)…  We had approximately six people designated for economic development. Here, there’s three… This organization has not had the manpower to do what it really needs to do, which is creating jobs and investment. If you look at it very generically, you’re looking at an existing industry program manager, a business development program manager, probably somebody that runs accounting and finance, a receptionist, an executive director, and then potentially a second-in-command as well that would sort of help put out fires as they develop and be your eyes and ears on the ground.”

What are your plans for the organization?
“My first thought is, let’s slow down. We’re not going to make any rash decisions on anything. There are some things that I do want to see adjusted and changed. We just discussed one of them — we need a more well-equipped team, and it’s simple things that help you gain an advantage. IT systems — today, we’re not even connected together… (We) need that ability so we can communicate and be effective as an organization. There are some other items. Small things… My vision is, get the team staffed properly, get this building equipped properly, get the right people in the right spots, develop product, make sure we have a very robust outreach to our existing industries — that’s probably the first and most important task that we have before us.”

What’s the future of the airport study?
“I do not (know). I know that it was an issue or concern. That’s something that has happened in the past, and we’re not going to let anything that’s happened in the past — whether it’s an airport study or anything else — take us and our vision and our focus off of what we need to do moving forward. Those things will be dealt with, but we’re not going to let them drag us down.”

How do you plan to address the agency’s past controversies?
“The MCEDA of the past is dead. We made the decision last week that our board minutes will be posted on our Web site now. So everything you want to see in a historical fashion starting from the October meeting forward… we’re going to move forward with that as well. It’s a small step, but it’s one of transparency. I want people to understand that this isn’t backroom deals with cigars and scotch. This is professional economic development. There are things because of nondisclosure agreements as we move forward (that) I cannot tell you. I cannot tell most people. Some things I will keep very, very, very guarded because we don’t want to lose any opportunity because of loose lips. But once it’s ready for the public domain, it’ll be there…”

What is the biggest challenge Madison County has?
“Product. Product. I think the perceptions of MCEDA, I think having an executive director that is going to be out in the public a little bit more… We’ve got to create some goodwill and enthusiasm, and you do that by having a vision and a plan. I think when people see the passion, they’ll all fall in…”

Are there certain things the Madison County Board of Supervisors has asked you to target?
“No. I was introduced at their board meeting two months ago, I believe. Other than that, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interaction. My plan and goal is to have enough projects that I’m there every month, every two weeks, bringing something to them. But, in light of that, until we get the organization up and running properly, my goal is to be there once a quarter to provide them an update. It may be an update that’s two minutes long or an update that’s 22 minutes long. But I want to make sure that the elected officials know what’s happening here at MCEDA…”

What is the primary role of MCEDA?
“To create jobs and investment. Just by virtue of it’s name, economic development. You’re here to create jobs and investment. In the past, there’s been a lot of noise. We need to get rid of the noise and strategize and focus exactly on what we’re here to do. At the end of the day, we all don’t have to agree… And that’s O.K. We can agree to disagree. My job is to tell you what you need to do in my opinion, and then you have to make those decisions and move forward.”

How do you see MCEDA filling that role so far?
“What I believe to be MCEDA’s role in the past was, they landed Nissan, and just by virtue of landing that OEM, the suppliers just started rolling in (Forsea, Sumitomo, etc.). It’s easy, once you land a big fish, to sit back and settle, and I would agree — O.K., you land the big fish, let them ramp up, you work with them to make sure they’re staffed properly and everything you committed to in that memorandum of understanding, you do. Take your breath, and then go after someone else… The organization that was here is not going to be the organization moving forward. It’s going to be very, very different. It’s going to be proactive instead of reactive, we’re going to be creative and innovative… I think we can do great things here in Madison County.”

SOURCE The Northside Sun Related Links