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Winter 2012

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.

By Mike Randle

Greg Thompson, President/CEO of Thompson Construction Group and Chairman of the Sumter (South Carolina) Development Board

Sumter County, S.C., Development Board Chairman Greg A. Thompson (left) welcomes Sumter County Council Chairman Gene Baten to the lectern at the October 6, 2011 Continental Tire announcement. Thompson is one of SB&D’s 2012 “people who made a difference.” South Carolina Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt and Gov. Nikki Haley are in the background. The first two times Greg A. Thompson was approached by Sumter, S.C.’s mayor and asked to accept a seat on the local development board, he politely declined. His business was growing rapidly, and it demanded nearly all of his attention. But the third time proved to be the charm, and although a bit skeptical, he accepted it. Although a junior member, Thompson’s optimism and energy were quickly noted. Within six months of his appointment, his peers elected him as chairman. They found out quickly that the new chairman could be quite demanding. He demanded local economic development efforts be proactive rather than reactionary. He demanded a professional economic developer to run the local show rather than another military retiree. He wanted a real, living strategic plan instead of a canned set of strategies that would be proposed, passed and quickly forgotten. He lobbied for greater investment from local governments instead of status quo funding. And he pushed and prodded other businessmen and women to invest in their community’s future through the Sumter Smarter Growth Initiative (SSGI), the Development Board’s private sector arm. And he put his money where his mouth was, spending millions to move his company’s headquarters downtown, becoming involved in several other community revitalization efforts, and becoming one of the SSGI’s largest investors. Sometimes being demanding bears fruit. In 2011, Sumter County, S.C. announced three new projects, including the largest ever: a $534 million, 1,700-job facility in Continental Tire the Americas that will reshape the economy of the entire region. We’d say that Greg Thompson made a difference.

Jeff Moseley, President & CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership

I've known Jeff (Judge) Moseley since he was the director of economic development in the state of Texas when current governor Rick Perry came into office 11 years ago. I will never forget my appointment with Jeff and current Texas economic development director Aaron Demerson. Like some folks I meet for the first time there is skepticism. But after a while, Jeff said to Aaron, "I like this guy," after I proclaimed "a deal that's not a Southern deal is a bad deal."

It is widely known that Texas is driving job growth nationwide. But did you know that Houston is driving Texas? In 2011, over 100,000 new jobs were created in Houston, or about half of the 204,500 new jobs created in all of Texas last year.

Gray Swoope, Secretary of Commerce, President & CEO of Enterprise Florida

I have known Gray for about 20 years. When Gray Swoope (pronounced "Swope") took the job at Enterprise Florida, folks in our office didn't know what to think. His previous experience -- including executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority -- was in Arkansas and Mississippi, two states that are mostly rural.

I recently received an email from Gray and I hope he doesn't mind me using it in this piece. He wrote, "Mike, Florida has never had a team of economic developers at the state level like we have now. We can compete. Gov. Scott asked for additional incentives ($100 million) to be appropriated for big projects. That is in addition to closing fund and other incentive programs. We also have four catalysts sites and new private inland port sites being developed.”

Needless to say, Gray is excited. This is the second consecutive year Swoope has landed on our annual "Ten people who made a difference" top 10. Last year he earned it while he was with the Mississippi Development Authority.

Robert "Bobby" Hitt III, S.C. Secretary of Commerce

We haven't had a chance to meet Bobby Hitt since he was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley to serve as Secretary of Commerce in January 2011. Hitt was formerly the manager of corporate affairs at the BMW Manufacturing Company in Spartanburg. Over the last two decades we have seen plenty of folks from the corporate side move over to lead economic development and most of the time it turns out to be an unsuccessful transition. But Hitt is an exception. He was involved in bringing BMW to South Carolina when he was director of planning and development for the Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough law firm that's based in Columbia. Before that he was a newspaper editor.

So why is Hitt making this year's "people who made a difference" top 10 list? Rarely does a Commerce head help secure the size and scope of projects such as BMW's $900 million expansion, Bridgestone's $1.2 billion expansion and Continental Tire's $500 million project in his or her first year.

John Bradley, Senior VP of Economic Development, TVA
Prepared, innovative, and tenacious during good economic times or bad -- these words best describe TVA’s Senior Vice President of Economic Development John Bradley, who we have known for two decades. His work this past year attracted $4.9 billion in economic development projects that created or retained 43,000 jobs in the TVA region.
Bradley is known for inspiring his team to excellence with his favorite key question: “At the end of the day ... what have we accomplished?” Results are a main focus and he has directed his team to reach greater heights, not only in job performance, but also in developing and implementing successful programs. These include identifying data center-ready sites and megasites, creating a successful funding effort to assist companies who stay and grow in the Valley, developing a rural strategy to help economically distressed communities, and helping communities be prepared to take advantage of growth opportunities.
Mary Fallin, Governor of Oklahoma

It didn't take long for Mary Fallin to put her stamp on Oklahoma's economy. We got to know Gov. Fallin back in 2005 when she was Lt. Governor through our long-time client, MidAmerica Industrial Park and its administrator Sanders Mitchell (a legend, who is retiring in May) and marketing director Don Berger. Gov. Fallin is the first woman to serve as governor in the state of Oklahoma.

She has only been in office about 15 months, yet during that time we have never seen Oklahoma as successful in the practice of economic development. Oklahoma's job growth is No. 3 in the nation and both Oklahoma City and Tulsa are outstanding markets to live, work and operate a business. The Boeing project that will see about 1,000 jobs relocate to Oklahoma City is one of the best projects to ever come to Oklahoma. And every Southern governor needs a Web site like The site is a survey of Oklahoma business executives. Nice!

Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana

What can you say about a governor who has led his state to “State of the Year” in each of the years he has been governor of Louisiana? Yep, Bobby Jindal came into office in January of 2008 and Louisiana promptly won SB&D’s 2009 State of the Year. Then won it again in 2010 and again in 2011.

Over 45,000 new jobs have been created in Louisiana since Gov. Jindal came into office and over $10 billion in capital invested in his state. Jindal is a smart dude. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar. When Gov. Jindal was just 24 years old, he was named to head the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Hal Sirkin, senior partner, Boston Consulting Group

We include a non-Southerner on this list just about every year and this year --hands down -- it is Hal Sirkin. Hal authored the report “Made in America, Again,” which validated the tremendous gain in manufacturing projects Southern Business & Development was tracking every year since 2007.

Sirkin’s report was the first to make the claim that a massive re-shoring event is actually happening from Asia to the U.S. and that manufacturing in this country may indeed be the new sustainable. We were writing about it, therefore we saw it for four years but we didn’t know why manufacturing projects were going through the roof in the South. When we read Sirkin’s report, it was an “okay, we get it now” moment for us. 

Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman, CEO, General Electric

Before Sirkin knew about the ongoing re-shoring of manufacturing jobs to the U.S. and Mexico, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt knew it. He knew his company -- specifically its appliance division -- had gone too far with its supply chain. That was in 2008. In other words, Immelt was re-shoring jobs to the company’s Appliance Park in Louisville before re-shoring was cool.

He also knew that outsourcing jobs to Asia costs money, too. And he realized, possibly before any other major corporate CEO, that the U.S. had become incredibly competitive when compared to China and other global locations when it came to manufacturing. But more importantly, Immelt realized that if your research, development and design is in the U.S., handing off production to a location halfway around the world isn’t really that smart after all.

Marvin Moss, Executive Director, Laurens County (S.C.) Development Commission

We always try to recognize at least one local economic developer in the South in this spot and this year it is Marvin Moss of Laurens County, S.C. Marvin is the third person from South Carolina to make up our annual “Ten people who made a difference” category for 2012. It is not the first time Marvin has been recognized of late. The South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association (SCEDA) named Marvin the 2011 Local Developer of the Year.

Laurens is a rural county located in the Upstate region of South Carolina between Greenville and Columbia. That’s where ZF Group is opening any day now a transmission plant that will house over 1,200 employees with an investment of over $425 million. Since then Marvin has landed several other high-profile deals.

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