Ten People Who Made a Difference
Editor's Note: We have taken a few of the Top 10s from Southern Business & Development magazine's (the owner and operator of www.SouthernAutoCorridor.com) annual Ten Top 10s issue, which is published at the end of each winter quarter. These top 10s that we have chosen to publish here may apply to companies looking to gain a foothold in the Southern Automotive Corridor. You can read all ten top 10s by going to www.SB-D.com or by subscribing to Southern Business & Development. Again, the Ten Top 10s edition is an annual issue.
By Mike Randle
Businessman David Murdock
The California-based billionaire is tearing down the past in the form of 5.8 million square feet of old textile facilities in Kannapolis, N.C. in order to prepare for the future. Murdock, owner of several companies including the real estate concern Castle & Cooke and Dole Food, announced in 2005 he is redeveloping the old Pillowtex facilities in downtown Kannapolis into the North Carolina Research Campus. The new, $1 billion facility will focus on the life sciences from a nutritional stance.
The project is certainly one of Murdock's most challenging. The 82-year-old reportedly plans to invest $700 million in the deal, which is being backed by several universities in the Tar Heel State. Murdock's big bio industry development in North Carolina is, without a doubt, one of the South's biggest stories of the year. That being the case, Murdock also makes our Ten People Who Made a Difference list as well.
Nissan's Carlos Ghosn
Sales of Nissan and Infinity automotive products have nearly doubled since Carlos Ghosn assumed leadership of the Japanese automaker in 1999. But that's not why Ghosn is being recognized here. While Nissan continues to grow, Ghosn continues to cut costs, something his domestic auto making brethren are doing in a reactive way today. The difference between the two is Ghosn's cost cutting is proactive. It's being done during a time when the Japanese automaker is enjoying the highest profit margins of any major automaker. Note the difference? Ghosn's cost cutting included something that has never happened in the Southern Auto Corridor (www.SouthernAutoCorridor.com). He is relocating Nissan's North American headquarters from California to Tennessee in a cost-cutting move. The move represents the first headquarters for an auto maker in the South.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco
While we haven't read about any significant finger pointing between these two Southern governors -- one a Democrat and the other a Republican -- regarding the handling of the Katrina disaster, there has been plenty to go around. We believe that if anything needs to be accomplished in the proper recovery of a major disaster, particularly the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, then cooperation among all parties, including political parties, must be achieved. We're giving out recognition this year to Gov. Blanco and Gov. Barbour because they have endured so much since that late August day of 2005. We commend both for their strength and commitment in the wake of the Katrina disaster. If you think that's a fluff statement, well, let's just say we know for a fact you weren't wearing their shoes on that fateful day.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III
Here's another governor that had a tough year. The mining tragedies were unfortunate and trying events for the people of West Virginia. Manchin responded by initiating new mine safety legislation immediately.
We've gotten to know Manchin in the last year or so. We can say without reservation this guy is motivated. He describes himself as a team builder and he may be. However, we know better. Motivated dudes of this sort are control freaks. Most people, including Manchin when he reads this, will think that's a negative statement. It's not. Manchin wants to do it his way, and to us if that way is the best way, then that's a better approach than a governor constantly appealing to everyone around him. Machin's way has included reducing his state's debt, fixing the state's worker's comp system, establishing the first comprehensive teacher pay package in over 15 years and turning more job and investment deals in West Virginia in memory.
Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt
Another new governor on the scene in the South is Missouri's Matt Blunt. Like Manchin, Blunt is a strong-as-new-rope leader and doesn't back down from anything or anybody. But unlike most Missouri governors we've known since the 1980s, Blunt incorporates many qualities that are inherent in Southern culture. We particularly loved his response to Ford's announcement that it is closing its St. Louis assembly plant. "We are working with Ford to reverse this decision." No governor in any state where GM or Ford announced plant closures recently said anything to the effect that they are working to "reverse the decision." Being stubborn with certain things and never giving up is a quality we'd like to see more of in politics.
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher
While it wasn't intended, Gov. Fletcher represents the third Southern border state governor recognized in this year's Ten People Who Made a Difference. In the four-year existence of our Ten Top 10s, we've recognized only one of the five Southern border state governors. That was Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius last year.
Gov. Fletcher had been ill in February, but made a surprise appearance in Louisville in early March to give his support to an arena project in the city. Like the aforementioned Governors' Manchin and Blunt, Fletcher's lack of word mincing and placating is very refreshing. For example, concerning the arena Fletcher said, "The arena will be built at the riverfront site. End of story."
But Fletcher isn't being mentioned here because of a prospective arena project in Louisville. Fletcher has earned our annual Ten People Who Made a Difference list because of several initiatives he's led, including the overhaul of the state's tax system, a solid economic development agenda and an emphasis on raising the state's high school graduation rate from 44th in the nation to 20th in less than 20 years. The one initiative we liked best is Fletcher's efforts at making Kentucky a right-to-work state. All but four of the South's states incorporate right-to-work laws. Currently Kentucky is not one of them. While we believe organized unions have their place in the South, not giving employees a choice whether to join a union or not does not have a place in the South. Right-to-work legislation doesn't eliminate unions. It just gives employees who want to work at a unionized plant the opportunity to choose to be a member of that union or not.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley
Gov. Easley is being named one of the ten people who have made a difference in the last year because of his unwavering stance that North Carolina had to change its long-standing practice of economic development if it was going to compete with other top-shelf Southern states at the beginning of the 21st century. As you know, North Carolina fell harder than most Southern states in the last major economic downturn. One of the reasons centered on the fact that the Tar Heel State is one of the largest manufacturing states in the country and that's clearly evident when you look at the sector in terms of its percentage of employment in the state. But there's nothing wrong with that, as the state has won some of the South's largest and most valued new manufacturing projects over the last couple of years.
Another reason North Carolina fell so hard in the last recession centered on a variety of ways the state implemented its economic development policy. For example, in the late 1990s and early 2000s the state's incentive programs, for the most part, were not competitive with other Southern states and that had a lot to do with the attitude developers in the state brought to the negotiating table. In short, North Carolina officials falsely believed that they did not have to do what some other states in the South had to do to attract new jobs and investment.
In the last couple of years it has been Gov. Mike Easley and his economic development team at the North Carolina Department of Commerce, particularly Commerce Secretary Jim Fain, who realized that maybe North Carolina was taking too high of a road in the practice of industrial and business recruitment. Easley, Fain and the state's lawmakers implemented new incentive programs and have virtually eliminated any "attitudes" that may have been developed during the incredibly successful years of the mid-1990s.
The changes also included a recommitment by the North Carolina Department of Commerce. With added incentives in its arsenal, recruitment once again became the central focus of the state's development team. The results have been remarkable. It has been years since any state had a run like the Tar Heel State had in the last few months of 2004. That successful run continued in 2005.
Changing the way you practice economic development is tough for any state, but no where is it harder than in North Carolina. The economic development profession in N.C., especially on the state level, is viewed with great scrutiny by the state's media, think tanks and highly conservative business organizations. For Easley and his team to make the necessary adjustment needed to make North Carolina as competitive, if not more so, than it was in the go-go ‘90s is a huge accomplishment.
TVA Senior Vice President John Bradley
The Tennessee Valley Authority is the largest-reaching economic development entity in the South, representing seven Southern states. For years, however, they didn't act like it. In fact, we used to wonder what the economic development department at TVA did other than oversee its regional industrial development associations.
It's no coincidence that TVA's economic development department became more aggressive shortly after Bill Baxter, the former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development, was appointed to its board. Baxter is a no-nonsense, tireless warrior. He is certainly one of the South's most impressive economic developers.
We knew things were changing at TVA when Baxter was hired. But when he hired economic development veteran John Bradley, who previously was with the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, we knew the utility was serious about changing its ways from an economic development bystander to an economic development leader in the South. While Bradley is being named one of the Ten People Who Made a Difference this year, we could easily have given the recognition to the entire TVA economic development department, with a piece of that to Baxter.
Fred Humes, Director, Economic Development Partnership, Aiken, S.C.
For local economic development professionals, thinking big can get you in trouble sometimes. There's a long list of local developers who have lost their jobs after suggesting, implementing and building some type of business recruitment project, whether it be an industrial park, spec building, research park or business incubator. You know why so many of those folks have lost their jobs? Well, the local economic development practitioner may suggest it, help plan it and work like a dog to make it happen, but one thing he or she doesn't do is pay for it. The government that he or she represents is usually responsible for the debt created by the project. And if the deal doesn't work out with a tenant and at least a break-even balance sheet within a specified period of time it's "see 'ya" time for the local developer.
Fred Humes has a strong track record of making things happen in Aiken, S.C. But even Fred will tell you he went out on a limb when he proposed to local officials the development of the $10 million Center for Hydrogen Research. Fred's dream became reality when the center held its grand opening in February. Activity at the center will focus on, among other things, the development of hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen fuel applications. By the way, there are tenants at the center and Toyota is one of them. Fortunately for Fred, that means he can keep his job for awhile.
Louisiana Commerce Secretary Mike Olivier
Not unlike his boss, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Olivier has some tough challenges set before him. And not unlike the border state governors we've recognized in this Top 10, Olivier tells it like it is. But Olivier is no politician. He is a veteran of the South's economic development scene, working for 15 years, ironically, in Gulfport, Miss., which was also hammered by Hurricane Katrina, before taking the top post at the Louisiana Department of Economic Development two years ago.
Mike's job, which was to take Louisiana to a higher level in the recruitment of industry, took on new meaning the day after Katrina devastated thousands of square miles of Louisiana coastline, including much of the New Orleans metro. While it wasn't in Olivier's original job description, one of his newfound tasks has been to ensure that Louisiana receives equitable aid from the federal government as it continues to recover. The unique advantage Olivier has is his 15 years spent as a developer in Mississippi.
In a time when telling it like it is is so important to get your message across, Olivier is the final, yet fitting entry into our annual Ten People Who Made a Difference listing. Mike's Mississippi history is truly unique in this situation. While there is much work to be done, Olivier has already helped Louisiana receive more than what was originally proposed by the federal government for the recovery of the hurricanes of 2005.