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Winter 2011

Ten People Who Made a Difference in the South

While we try our best to change up the categories for your reading enjoyment in our annual Ten Top 10s section, we always include the "Ten People Who Made a Difference" category. After all, each year there are hundreds of people that should be recognized for their contributions to successful economic development in the South. Here are a few Southerners who deserve recognition for their contributions to economic development in the South over the last year.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican from Northern Virginia, won 59% of the vote and was sworn in as Governor of Virginia on January 16, 2010. He received more votes than any governor in Virginia history. When it comes to economic development, it looks like those voters knew what they were doing. McDonnell already is being compared with former Gov. George Allen, whose term in the 1990s brought Virginia its best economic development years in state history.

The first executive order by Gov. McDonnell once in office was to establish the Chief Job Creation Officer and the Governor's Economic Development and Job Creation Commission. McDonnell has made job creation a priority since he took office a little more than a year ago. In his inaugural address, the Virginia Governor said, "the creation of new job opportunities for all our citizens is the obligation or our time." In his State of the Commonwealth speech in January, McDonnell said, "Since February 2010, Virginia has added 67,900 net new jobs, the third-highest number in the nation. We ranked 35th in this same category in 2009," an obvious dig at former governor Tim Kaine.

Since job creation is indeed a real number and not a political one, we did a quick check on McDonnell's claim. He was right. Virginia was third in the country in net new jobs from February 2010 and November 2010, behind only Texas (+196,400) and Pennsylvania (+70,000).

Dennis Cuneo, Managing Partner of the D.C. Office of Fisher & Phillips LLP

Dennis Cuneo, a veteran site selector who has guided many large Toyota projects to the Southern Automotive Corridor (, had a big year in the South in 2010 assisting several Dennis Cuneo is no stranger to the South. Working for Toyota, Cuneo has chosen Southern locations for several major projects for the Japanese automaker, including billions of dollars in investments in assembly plants in San Antonio and Blue Springs, Miss. as well as dozens of automotive parts supplier facilities.

Today, Cuneo spends much of his time on Clean Tech projects funded by venture capital out of Silicon Valley. Over the last nine months, he has worked on several projects in the solar, nano-technology and bio-mass fields. Each of those companies chose communities in the South – four in Mississippi alone -- to scale up production. Cumulatively, the projects will create 2,800 jobs with a total investment of over $1.2 billion.

Mark Herbison, Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce

There might not be a more successful local economic developer in the South right now than Mark Herbison of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce. Mark Herbison is the senior vice-president of economic development at the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce. While Mark is not President of the Chamber, he is the one on the front lines when it comes to turning job generating deals in the Memphis region. Herbison has done an extraordinary job.

Last year Memphis earned "Major Market of the Year" honors with 115 points in the 2010 Southern Business & Development 100. It was the second "Major Market of the Year" for Memphis in the last 10 years, which is a pretty good record considering there are 18 major markets in the South vying for the honor, including Charlotte, Nashville, Austin, Raleigh and Orlando, all economic development heavyweights.

And Memphis' performance this year may beat last year's (results will be published in the 2011 SB&D 100, which comes out on June 22). In February, Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi announced it will build a $200 million plant in Memphis. In December, Memphis was chosen by Electrolux for a $190 million facility that will employ more than 1,200 workers. Also last year, Pinnacle Airlines decided to move its headquarters to downtown Memphis, the largest downtown development since AutoZone brought its headquarters to downtown Memphis. There might not be a more successful major market economic developer in the South right now than the Memphis Chamber's Mark Herbison.

Dave Porter, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce

If there was a more successful major market economic developer in the South in the last year it would be Dave Porter, the senior vice-president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. Like Herbison, Porter is the point man for corporate and industrial recruitment for the Austin, Tex. region and he has helped generate thousands of jobs in the last year or so for Texas' capital city.

One market Porter and the Austin Chamber have tapped successfully is California. Porter and The Greater Austin Chamber have recruited a number of projects from California, including several headquarter relocations. In 2010, 27 companies moved their headquarters or opened new operation centers in Austin, creating 3,000 new jobs. And in 2010, nine California companies opened offices in Austin, including Facebook, SunPower and LegalZoom. In an interview in December, Porter said, "California is our No. 1 source of success."

Gray Swoope, Mississippi Development Authority/Enterprise Florida/Florida Department of Commerce

Gray Swoope helped Mississippi emerge from the recession in a big way in 2010 as director of the Mississippi Development Authority. New Florida Gov. Rick Scott hired Swoope in the winter quarter to run that state's economic development efforts. The recession was a deal killer for many Southern states. For Mississippi, 2009 was the worst year for large new and expanded projects in more than 25 years. But whenever you are dealt a bad hand, as Mississippi was in 2009, what do you do? You keep dealing and that's exactly what Gray Swoope and his team did in 2010. Gray was the Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority until February.

Under Swoope's leadership, Mississippi generated an amazing comeback in 2010, landing more projects in the first few months of the year than it did in all of 2009. Some of the most notable projects Mississippi has landed recently include Stion ($500 million, 1,000 jobs), Soladigm ($130 million, 300 jobs), Twin Creeks ($175 million, 512 jobs) and Schulz Xtruded Products ($300 million, 500 jobs). Those four projects will rank in the upper 20 percent of all projects in the South when the SB&D 100 comes out in June.

In late February, Swoope was hired by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to run Enterprise Florida and a revival of the former Florida Department of Commerce. Scott picked the right guy.

The People of Oklahoma City

We named the people of Oklahoma City our "Person of the Year" for 2011. That being the case, how can we not put the people of Oklahoma City in our annual "ten people who made a difference" category for 2011?
Since 1993, Oklahoma City Citizens have passed eight multi-million dollar initiatives to improve their hometown, even if that meant taxing themselves in order to raise the funds. Many times, these elections weren't even close, passing with nearly 80% of the vote.

Over the years, the investments made by Oklahoma City Citizens has totaled nearly $3 billion. When looking at the outside investments that followed, both public and private, that investment blossoms to more than $5 billion. That's enough for us to include the people of Oklahoma City in our ten people who made a difference. 

Mike Neal, President and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber

Like Oklahoma City, nearby Tulsa is also on a roll and Mike Neal is leading it. Neal, President and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, was selected as the 2011 Tulsan of the Year by TulsaPeople magazine in January for his "limitless energy, can-do optimism and tireless efforts toward making Tulsa a better place." Under Neal's leadership, which began about five years ago, the Tulsa Chamber was also selected twice as the "Chamber of the Year" by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives for a record total now of three times.

What Tulsa and Oklahoma City exemplify as much as any community in the South is their ability to make the best of what they have and to convince their citizens to invest in themselves, something some high-growth markets in the region find hard to achieve since there are so many new residents that have no deep, local ties to the community.

While there are many local economic developers who have turned more projects than Michael Neal has since he accepted the job to run Tulsa's Chamber in 2006, few have done a better job at retaining and growing the companies they already have.

Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire

This is the second consecutive year we have recognized Washington Gov. Gregoire as one of the "Ten People Who Made a Difference" in Southern economic development. Last year we recognized her for this as we wrote:

"Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire bungled the chances for Washington State to get the second 787 Dreamliner assembly plant so badly that she deserves to be acknowledged this year as one of the 'Ten People Who Made a Difference' in economic development in the South. The reasons behind Boeing's move to South Carolina, according to Washington Gov. Gregoire, were 'about negotiations with labor.' "In a public statement regarding the Boeing decision, Gov. Gregoire said," 'I'm disappointed, I'm angry, I hurt for the workers and I think the company made the wrong decision. But, I wasn't at the table."

"Why Gov. Gregoire wasn't 'at the table' for such an important development with the state's largest employer (even larger than Microsoft) is up for speculation. Nonetheless, it probably didn't help matters for Washington State when Gov. Gregoire visited the picket line during the Machinists' strike against Boeing in the fall of 2008."

Well, if we are going to hammer a governor from outside the South for helping the region win an important project, such as Boeing's new plant in South Carolina, then we are fair enough to recognize her when she helped beat the South in gaining the Boeing tanker project in February.

The Three Female Governors in the South: Mary Fallin, Nikki Haley and Bev Perdue

Three of the states in the South that will likely land future plants from Boeing are now being run by female Governors. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), along with Bev Perdue in North Carolina (D), account for the most female governors in office ever in the South. Prior to Perdue, Fallin and Haley, there have only been seven female governors in the region since the first was elected in Texas in 1925. One of those is our good friend, former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

You can bet that Haley, Fallin and Perdue will be making trips up to the Puget Sound to call on Boeing. As mentioned, South Carolina won the new Boeing 787 plant in 2009 and that facility will open soon. In August of last year, Oklahoma won a large Boeing project when 500 engineering jobs were moved from California to Oklahoma City. And with the opening of a large Spirit AeroSystems plant in North Carolina last year, that state's aerospace industry has some legs. Back in 2004, North Carolina offered Boeing $534 million in incentives – most likely the largest incentive package ever offered a company in the Tar Heel State – if the aircraft maker would build its first 787 jetliner in the state. That project stayed in Washington State.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Rick Perry has made a huge comeback, winning an unprecedented third full term in November. He has already been governor of Texas for more than 10 years, taking over for George W. Bush when he was elected President in 2000.

Perry's campaign was fueled largely by the Tea Party movement. He was one of the first significant office holders to speak at a Tea Party rally in 2009. The anti-Washington sentiment was no better exemplified than by Perry's book that came out last year titled "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington."

We are not naming Gov. Perry as one of the "Ten People Who Made a Difference" in the South this year because he is a member of a specific political party. SB&D loves leaders who help create jobs regardless of their political party or beliefs. And with Texas accounting for more than 25 percent of all new jobs created in the country last year, Perry gets our vote this year.

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