QA Debra Fox Executive director for Marengo County Economic Development Authority
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Q: You received your education from the University of Alabama in corporate finance and later your MBA from University of Southern Mississippi with a emphasis in finance. How has your knowledge of businesses at the corporate level helped you in the field of economic development?
A: I think one of the key elements is that I understand business models. I certainly can go back with a prospect&8217;s name in hand and before I speak to them further go back and research their industry and look at the key success factors in their industry, look at what drives their industry, loot at their trends in their industry. I can understand those types of things and be very prepared to answer any questions that might relate those types of things to look at the opportunity and obstacles to come to Marengo County.
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Q: In your work as the economic developer for Thomasville, your organization helped to set up a fairly extensive Web site providing information about each of the properties and spaces available to potential developers. How long did this process take and do you see this as something you will do for Marengo County?
A: That information had been pulled together previously to some extent, but we keep it current and tweak. Marengo County has a solid base of information also; certainly Demopolis&8217;s information is there. One of the things I would do right away is to make sure all the Linden industrial sites are listed on there as well as Marengo County sites.
Q: What do you think Internet exposure can do for a smaller area when looking to recruit more business and growth?
One of the things I&8217;ve learned in taking international economic development courses and professional development courses is that if you limited resources, one of things you want to do immediately is create a presence. Certainly one of the first things we&8217;ve got to do is look at what is our brand going to be, what is our logo going to be. We need a Web site, even a very simple Web site initially, that reflects that.
A Web site, you&8217;re almost penalized if you don&8217;t have that because a lot of prospective companies are going directly to a community and looking for those Web sites. They&8217;re looking for available properties and even to the extent they will eliminate people who don&8217;t have virtual tours of their products &8212; their industrial parks, spec buildings or available properties. I think that is very key and is one of the very first things that needs to be done is to establish that presence.
Q: You mentioned in your comments to the EDA that anytime you are looking at bringing in new industry to an area you try to market a whole community rather than just a property. Will this same approach be used in Marengo County?
A: I think Marengo County has a wealth of assets. You go back to your marketing strategy and what your brand is. Whatever you do in marketing you have to be consistent. But the days of just presenting your industrial sites and saying this is what we have are over. I think you&8217;ve got to sell the experience of your area. Whatever we are in Marengo County, that&8217;s what we sell. We sell Marengo County as a whole, whether it&8217;s tourism, whether it&8217;s education, whether it&8217;s recreation, whether it&8217;s the medical community, or the small business community with chambers of commerce. All of those things play an essential role in telling the story of Marengo County.
Q: With your work in Thomasville, there seem to be several companies that came into the area and later expanded such as Thompson Cat and Boeing. Do you think revitalizing current businesses and fostering growth will factor into your overall plan for the county?
A: I had enormous success here with people who wanted to do something in industrial park and then realized they had a need for a residential or they wanted to invest in another project. I had people that came to renovate an existing structure and they decided they would purchase other retail entities. One of things I think you have to have is a good rapport and credibility with these prospects and these projects. Economic development is about relationship building, and that is so crucial. If you have those good relationships you can promote other opportunities.
As I understand this position will be heavily concentrated on the industrial recruitment, but another thing I think is absolutely equal to that is going out and working the existing businesses and industries. I would love to see us have surveys of all those industries and make sure every industry that has the potential to expand or may be facing obstacles can get the help they need so we can do something to retain them in the county.
Q: How will you begin the process of economic development at the county level?
A: Once we get our established, and look at our assets, I want to do a very strategic targeting of the things we&8217;d like to attract, but at the same time, simultaneously, I want to make sure that we look at ways to add value and innovate existing businesses. If that means attracting new customers for them, finding ways to cut costs &8212; which is becoming more and more critical with fuel costs &8212; then we do that as well. Recruiting is expensive, and it&8217;s important, but it&8217;s also important to work those existing businesses and industries because 80 percent of your jobs will come from them.
Q: You served one four-year term as the mayor of your hometown, Silas, in Choctaw County. What did that experience teach you?
When I ran for mayor, I knocked on every door in town, and in Silas that&8217;s not that many doors, and got tremendous feedback for things people would like to see. And we tried to make some of those things happen. We brought in probably 50 people on a Saturday morning and divided them up into four or five committees. I put them through some training on what it meant to be on a volunteer committee and municipal committee. We worked very hard for four years, and some of those committees were more successful than others. We ended up with 3.5 major projects done in four years.
One of the things I realized right away is that I enjoy pulling people together. This was a very diverse group of people &8212; people of all ages, people of all ethnic backgrounds, people with different experiences and education levels &8212; but they all came together. You have to get that momentum going and be a catalyst, and that worked very well.
Q: How do you feel about taking the helm of the EDA, beginning the first week of June?
A: This is not my first time to work in Marengo County, I was able to work as part of the external services team for Alabama Southern in the 1990s, and I found that a very rewarding experience to work with people in Marengo County. I have since over the years, and even in my time in Thomasville, interacted with different people from all over Marengo County. I think there is a lot of momentum and energy, and I know there is a lot to work with. I&8217;m really thrilled and excited for this opportunity, and am quite honored to be the first economic developer for the entire county.