Transforming Madison County

Joey Deason’s blueprint for economic success

Thanks to Amazon Web Service’s recent decision to establish two data center campuses with a staggering $10 billion investment, Madison County is set to undergo an unprecedented economic transformation. 

This monumental achieve-ment, spearheaded by the leadership of Joey Deason, Executive Director of the Madison County Economic Development Authority, marks a turning point in the county and state’s history. But, Deason and his team aren’t stopping here—they’re already working tirelessly for even more groundbreaking successes.

Deason, an Attala County native, graduated from Ethel High School, one among 32 in his senior class. As the first in his family to attend college, he graduated from Mississippi State University and embarked on a career that he could never have imagined would see him become a major force in the state’s economic development.

General Motors enjoyed the fruits of Deason’s labor for the first 18 years of his career where he focused on finance.

With the auto manufacturer, Joey worked in Mississippi, South Carolina, Michigan and Ohio. His last station, Michigan, ended partly because of his family’s desire to get back to their warmer climate at home in Mississippi. 

A serendipitous beach meeting with Gray Swope, the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority at the time, led to an unexpected job offer. Initially hesitant, Deason took his wife’s advice, getting more information and eventually accepting the role of Chief Financial Officer for MDA. It was in this role where he honed his skills and gained invaluable experience.

Following his time at MDA, Deason took on the role of President and CEO at Schulz Xtruded Products where he oversaw the construction of a $300 million facility in Tunica County. Although successful, changes in the company led him to seek new opportunities. 

Joe Max Higgins, a prominent figure in economic development, invited Deason to join the Golden Triangle Development Link, a three-county organization where he learned critical lessons in infrastructure and strategic development.

Seven years ago, Deason joined MCEDA, again, initially hesitant, but ultimately persuaded by his wife and the potential he saw in Madison County. 

He was attracted by the challenge and the potential he saw in the area. He had often wondered why there had been a development lull following the Nissan project in 2003. Deason believed with a strategic plan and effective leadership, Madison County could achieve significant success. “I knew Madison County could win, they just needed a plan, a strategy and someone to lead them to one,” said Deason.

As MCEDA’s leader, Deason’s approach is not just about creating jobs, but enhancing the quality of life for residents. This could include anything from infrastructure projects to parks or ensuring rural areas have access to essential services.

Since Deason took the helm in 2017, MCEDA has seen much success, bringing in the likes of Fastenal, UPS, Southern Beverage and many others. In all, they have won 27 projects, bringing nearly 5,200 jobs with an average salary of $53,251. Total investment in the county is $11.5 billion with a total estimated revenue of $96.2 million.

The most notable achievement under Deason’s leadership is landing the largest economic development project in Mississippi history: Amazon Web Services. This monumental project was the result of meticulous planning and relentless effort, not just by the MCEDA team, but many others as well. 

Deason’s strategic use of site development programs and grants helped prepare the megasite with necessary infrastructure, making it an attractive option for major corporations.

The journey to secure AWS was marked by challenges and intense competition from other states. Deason’s team focused on ensuring Madison County met all requirements, from providing adequate power to environmental permits and everything in between. 

Their hard work paid off when AWS chose Madison County for its $10 billion investment. The project promises substantial economic benefits including an estimated $75 million in average annual tax revenue over the next 20 years, significantly boosting local school districts and municipal budgets.

“We just outworked everyone else,” explained Deason.  “Each time they came to us with something they wanted or needed, we met that challenge and brought them more. They ran out of reasons to say no!”

Deason’s vision for Madison County extends far beyond AWS. He aims to continue attracting high-value projects. He emphasizes that in order to accomplish this, there has to be “product”—megasites with ready-to-go infrastructure and permitting.

There are also some immediate needs that MCEDA is addressing. The pending departure of Levi Strauss provides an opportunity for the group to find jobs for those displaced workers and backfill their warehouse with a new tenant.

MCEDA’s role with AWS is ongoing, involving the construction of thousands of square feet of foundations and building electric substations to help keep the project on its extremely tight timeline. Deason’s team is also working to ensure the influx of construction workers has adequate housing and amenities.

It might not be apparent by the AWS project, but the economic development game isn’t without its challenges: securing community support, managing large-scale projects and ensuring adequate product is available, to name a few. One of the initial hurdles Deason said he faced was convincing the community and local leadership of Madison County’s potential. The initial success in landing amazon.com’s distribution center helped build credibility and secure further investments. 

His practical approach involves being honest about the county’s capabilities and setting realistic expectations. His advice to other regions looking to replicate Madison County’s success is to focus on developing product and understanding their strengths and limitations. 

“This is not a game where you can just wait on projects to show up; you have to be actively engaged,” said Deason. “About one-third of the projects come from MDA, one-third from the utility and you have to bring in the other third on your own.”

For individuals, he emphasizes the importance of a strong engineering or financial back-ground for anyone interested in pursuing a career in economic development, adding that a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of business is a must.

Deason attributes much of his success to his supportive family. Married to Annette Marie Deason for 36 years, he has a daughter, Hayden, a son-in-law, Dylan, one grandchild and another on the way. Away from the office he enjoys hunting, offshore fishing, cooking and traveling.

His favorite aspect of his job is the variety and unique challenges each project presents. He thrives on finding innovative solutions and navigating the complexities of economic development.

Deason’s leadership at MCEDA has been transformative for Madison County, and helped bring Mississippi into the forefront in tech economic development. His strategic vision, combined with his extensive experience and commitment to community development, has positioned the county as a major player in economic development. And he’s settling on past achievements. “We’re trying to duplicate what we did with AWS,”  said Deason. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to.”

Landing AWS is a testament to his dedication and ability to drive significant economic growth. As Deason continues to lead MCEDA, Madison County’s future looks promising, with ongoing projects and initiatives set to further enhance its economic landscape. 

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