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 Fall 2015


Ten People Who Made a Difference in the South

By Mike Randle

We try to change up the categories in our annual Ten Top 10s section, but we always include the "Ten People Who Made a Difference" category. Here is our annual list that includes executives, economic developers and politicians that have made a difference in the South's economy.

Dan DiMicco

Dan DiMiccoNucor is a Fortune 300 company based in Charlotte that is unlike any company we know. For example, the company is incredibly decentralized in that there are only five managerial levels with the fifth being CEO. In fact, we've heard that Nucor's office staff numbers less than 100 employees, surely one of the smallest, if not the smallest, of any Fortune 300 company.

Much of that lean strategy was implemented by Dan DiMicco. He took over at Charlotte-based Nucor in 2000 and served as chairman of the steel maker from 2006 to when he stepped down on December 31, 2012. DiMicco remains with the company as executive chairman.

Nucor has been a fixture at the top of the South's manufacturing legend list for years. DiMicco helped that cause dramatically during his tenure. Sales rose nearly five-fold while DiMicco led the company. A metallurgist by trade, and knowing that steel making is a dirty business, DiMicco put Nucor on a more environmentally-friendly path and since 2000, the company has cut its release of toxins by 35 percent.

The company operates plants in the U.S. and Canada, but it's in the South that most of the steel and iron making is done. Currently, the company is building a massive facility in St. James Parish, La.

One of the reasons we named DiMicco as one of the "Ten People Who Made a Difference" this year was a comment he made at a speech in Charlotte last year. He claimed that the much publicized "skills gap" is "complete hogwash." DiMicco should know. He has built plants in rural areas of the South that have always struggled with a skills gap.

John Correnti

John CorrentiJohn Correnti is a Southern serial entrepreneur the likes of Ted Turner. Correnti just doesn't quit and for the past quarter century his penchant for always having a deal in his back pocket is virtually unrivaled in the South. Correnti's latest deal is Big River Steel, which is in the process of receiving approval from the Arkansas Legislature to build a $1.1 billion steel mill near Osceola, Ark.

The project is filled with irony. After a career as President and CEO (1991 to 1999) of Charlotte-based Nucor and a stint at trying to save Birmingham Steel, Correnti formed a new venture. That venture would be start-up steel maker SeverCorr.

In 2004, Correnti was searching for a location for his new start-up. He wanted to build the plant on a site in Mississippi County, Ark., where he located a massive plant for Nucor when he was president of the company in 1992. However, Arkansas passed on the deal for a variety of reasons, first and foremost because it was a start-up project. So the SeverCorr deal ended up in Lowndes County (Columbus), Miss. SeverCorr has been a great success in East Mississippi.

Now here is the irony: Correnti's latest deal -- Big River Steel -- initially looked at a site near Columbus in West Point, Miss. The transaction was halted when Correnti could not get electric rates to his liking in West Point. So what did Correnti do? He simply moved the Big River Steel project back to where he wanted to place his SeverCorr project back in 2004. . .to Arkansas in the same county (Mississippi County) he placed the Nucor steel mill in 1992.

J. Wayne Leonard

J. Wayne Leonard stepped down as chairman of the New Orleans-based utility Entergy in the winter quarter. SB&D will remember Leonard most for being the first utility executive in the South to our knowledge to recognize climate change. Leonard joined Entergy in 1998 and by 2001 he developed a plan that made the company the first U.S. utility to make a major commitment at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Providing electric loads to some of the country's largest polluters at the time -- large chemical and oil and gas plants on the Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas coasts -- Entergy reduced CO2 emissions by 455 million tons with Leonard at the helm.

One of my favorite quotes of Leonard's was published in the Chicago Tribune. Leonard said, "When you look at climate change, it doesn't have to be a certainty, it just has to be a possibility." Leonard has proposed a tax on every ton of CO2 emitted by all industry and use the proceeds to reduce or even eliminate U.S. debt.

Michael Hecht

Michael Hecht is the President and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., the economic development agency of the 10-parish region of Southeast Louisiana. Hecht hasn't led New Orleans economic development efforts for long since he spearheaded the Katrina Small Business Recovery Program for the State of Louisiana.

Since Hecht joined GNO Inc., the New Orleans region has seen a transformation that is one for the ages. When Katrina hit in August of 2005, scores of residents left the city with many pledging to never return. By 2009, New Orleans was America's fastest growing city.

New Orleans has obviously benefited from the clean slate that was created by the Katrina disaster. Today, New Orleans has few peers and many of the new opportunities the city and surrounding region currently offer were drawn up by Michael Hecht. Since Hecht has led New Orleans' economic development efforts, the city has been cited as No. 1 in economic recovery, best American city to visit, No. 1 for start-ups and No. 1 "brain magnet" city.

Mike Eades

Another local economic developer from Louisiana made this year's "ten people who made a difference" list. I have known Mike Eades for over 20 years and his economic development career has stretched from 1976 to today.

Eades, a native of Washington County, Va., began his economic development career in South Carolina working for the South Carolina Department of Commerce, an agency that is legendary in training economic developers who move on to top jobs throughout the region. His first CEO gig was in 1988 when he earned the head job at the Central Carolina EDA in Columbia, S.C. Since then he has led economic development agencies in Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and now in Louisiana.

Today, Mike Eades is enjoying the fruits of his best work as president and CEO of the Ascension Economic Development Corp. in Sorrento, La. Few places in the South are seeing more action than Ascension Parish and the national media has noticed.

In a story published last year by Bloomberg titled, "America's Energy Seen Adding 3.6 Million Jobs Along With 3 Percent GDP," Eades said, "We're just seeing an incredible amount of activity." In a similar story about the South's energy boom published in The Washington Post, Eades said, "The supply of natural gas and the price are the driving factors, and we're swimming in natural gas down here."

Agnes Zaiontz

Agnes has been a fixture at the Columbus, Miss.-based Tennessee-Tombigbee (Tenn-Tom) Waterway Development Authority for decades. In fact, Agnes was there when the office opened in 1984. "Agnes has been the glue that has held the Tenn-Tom together all these years," said the organization's director Bruce Windham.

We at SB&D have known Agnes for over 20 years and she has always been the consummate professional. She has not only "made a difference" in the South this year, but for over 30 years now as the Tenn-Tom has seen steady growth along its shores with new and expanding industry.

Glen Fenter

Mid-South Community College President Glen Fenter pictured far right speaks with Chris Masingill Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority left and Mike Randle center editor and publisher of SBDDr. Glen Fenter has helped lead a massive worker training effort through Arkansas' community college system. He is president of Mid-South Community College and got a wake-up call six years ago when Toyota chose Tupelo, Miss., over Marion, Ark., for a large automotive assembly plant.

In the Summer 2012 issue of SB&D, Fenter said, "Toyota cited their concerns about the Arkansas Delta region's capacity to supply and maintain the facility with a high-quality labor force. We used the loss of that opportunity as a wake-up call, a road map of what we wanted our future to look like."

Since that huge loss for the Arkansas Delta region, educators in Arkansas like Dr. Fenter have developed a workforce training model that is the envy of the nation. In fact, the Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium (ADTEC), of which Mid-South Community College is a member, was recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as the nation's No. 1 workforce model.

Earl Ray Tomblin

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray TomblinCall it coincidence if you want, since he got the job in 2010 when real growth began to surface in the South, but when Earl Ray Tomblin stepped into the West Virginia governor's office, the state's economy took off. Gov. Tomblin became acting governor of West Virginia in 2010 after former Governor Joe Manchin was elected to the U.S. Senate. In fact, Gov. Tomblin is the only governor we know who has won two gubernatorial elections in 13 months. He was elected as governor in a special election to fill Manchin's unexpired term on October 4, 2011, then reelected again in the regular election on November 6, 2012. During those three years, West Virginia's economy took off like no three-year period we have covered since 1993.

For example, West Virginia's exports grew 26 percent in 2012, fourth-best in the nation and second in the South to Arkansas. In 2011, West Virginia was home to the second-best job growth in the U.S. and No. 1 in the South and first in export growth nationwide.

Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry may go down as the South's best economic development governor ever when he leaves office, whenever that day comes. He has already served as Texas' Governor for 13 years.

We just loved Gov. Perry's California radio ad campaign launched this year where he says, "Building a business is tough, but I hear building a business in California is next to impossible." Asked by a reporter about the campaign, Perry said, among other things, "You fish where the fish are."

After all these years, Gov. Perry remains an unstoppable force when it comes to economic development and Texas remains the dominant player in the South for job generation as it has been since he took office. In 2012, Texas had its best year since 1997 in landing large economic development projects.

Jay Nixon

Missouri Governor Jay NixonJay Nixon is serving his second term as governor of Missouri. In 2008, Gov. Nixon won election by the highest margin of victory for a non-incumbent governor in 44 years and was elected to a second term on November 6, 2012.

Missouri's economy has done just fine of late, recovering nicely from the recession with an unemployment rate that is under 7 percent. We were especially impressed by Gov. Nixon when he united Republicans and Democrats to pass landmark legislation supporting Missouri's long standing automotive industry. His first executive order was to create the Missouri Automotive Jobs Task Force to develop strategies to create jobs and bring next-generation vehicle production to the state.

In 2010, when the future of Ford's plant in Kansas City was in doubt, Gov. Nixon called the General Assembly into a special session to pass the Missouri Manufacturing Jobs Act, providing additional incentives to manufacturers. This resulted in Ford deciding not only to keep the plant open, but invest $1.1 billion in the facility and add 1,600 jobs. General Motors followed suit with a $380 million investment in its plant near St. Louis.

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