January 25, 2013 12:02:06 PM
The Golden Triangle Development Link has hired Joseph P. Deason, a former chief financial officer for the Mississippi Development Authority, to represent Oktibbeha County and serve as the GTDL's chief operating officer.
He joins Ron Maloney, who was hired in August as the vice president of economic development for Clay County.
The two will work to represent both counties as they court potential industry as part of the tri-county partnership, which became official in October.
Deason will split his time between Columbus and Starkville, with an office in both cities, but Link CEO Joe Higgins said Deason will initially spend more time in Starkville while he gets adjusted. He will officially begin Feb. 1.
Deason's hiring was announced Thursday during the Greater Starkville Development Partnership's monthly board meeting.
"I can feel the passion, I just felt it in that room," Deason said afterward. "You can see the attitude and that everyone is willing to work together."
Deason will hit the ground running, Higgins said, working to fill key vacant buildings, looking at site development and speaking to the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority about acquiring additional acreage for development.
"Early on he will be spending a lot of time in Jackson, too, hanging up shingles that say Starkville and Oktibbeha County are open for business," Higgins said. "He is going to be treated way better than any new guy should be just starting out."
As a Mississippi State University alumnus, Deason is no stranger to Starkville or Oktibbeha County. His work with MDA from 2006 to 2010 included major involvement in the beginning of what was once the CottonMill Marketplace, which has been a thorn in Starkville and the university's sides since 2008, with multiple deals falling apart.
In September, it happened again, and the project -- once quoted at $100 million -- was whittled down to $40 million. Once promising an entire transformation of the E.E. Cooley Building and the surrounding area into a pedestrian-friendly village, the new project focuses mostly on a renovation of the Cooley Building into a hotel and conference center.
Higgins said Deason's involvement with the project might have been what sold him.
"We pulled up at the Cooley Center on a dreary, rainy day, and I told him, 'This is probably one of the projects you'll be working on -- let me tell you where we are on it,'" Higgins said. "(Deason) look at me and said, 'No, let me tell you how we got started on it.'"
Also during his time at MDA, Deason worked successfully to entice several Fortune 500 companies to the state, including Toyota, General Electric, Severstal and PACCAR. Thanks to his efforts, those companies, and others, invested approximately $2.4 billion and created more than 3,500 jobs.
Most recently, Deason served as president and CEO of Schulz Xtruded Products, which specializes in seamless stainless steel and extruded profiles. The company is a division of Wilh. Schulz GMBH, of Krefeld, Germany. Deason has spent an extensive amount of time in Europe and Asia for business, and he said he thinks his experiences will benefit the Link.
"When you discuss companies like Severstal and PACCAR, you have to remember, we aren't living in a Mississippi economy or a Southern economy, we are living in a global economy," Deason said. "It is vital that we have the resources and skills to work outside the U.S."
With Higgins at the helm, Deason was interviewed and selected by the Link's Oktibbeha County board members, Zelma Talley, Mark Abernathy, Steve Langston and Michelle Amos. OCEDA President Jack Wallace was also part of the selection process.
Higgins said there were two other qualified candidates, but after interviewing Deason, it became clear they had their man.
Deason said he sees no obstacles, for Oktibbeha County, only opportunities.
"I think there is going to have to be coordination -- I think you are going to have to be aggressive," Deason said. "There are a lot of communities out there vying for the same projects we are. We are just going to have to work harder and smarter."
GSDP Board President Steven Langston said he was ecstatic to see what Deason could do but he does not want the overall focus to be lost.
"Just because Joey is on board and we have someone paid to do economic development, that doesn't mean it isn't still a community job," Langston said. "It takes every one of us, but this is everything we could have ever dreamed about."