Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Mike Eades, President and CEO of the Ascension Economic Development Corp.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Mike Eades, President and CEO of the Ascension Economic Development Corp.

POSITION: Chief executive officer and president, Ascension Economic Development Corp., since 2009.

AGE: 62.

Before coming to Ascension Parish, Eades served as executive director of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority in Virginia. Since 2009, he has headed the nonprofit Ascension Economic Development Corp. In January, he announced that capital investments in Ascension topped $1 billion in 2013, the third consecutive year the parish reached that milestone. That includes the $550 million Methanex project for a second methanol plant in Geismar.

Is there a challenge cities face in developing their economies?

Leadership is the key dynamic to economic development and overshadows the more obvious things such as natural resources, skilled workforce and infrastructure. The most successful communities are those whose elected, appointed and business leaders give economic development a high priority over the long term. That’s the key reason behind Ascension Parish’s economic development track record. We fight for every job.

What kind of homework does the AEDC have to do to encourage a business to locate here?

One of the keys to winning economic development deals is to have superior data and information about your community — labor force, wages, tax rates, real estate — than your competitors, and being able to respond very quickly. A very good website (www.ascensionedc.com) is a must — that’s the front door to Ascension Parish for economic development prospects.

Does the AEDC focus on any particular type of business?

We particularly look for “gaps” in the marketplace. Are existing companies here having to go out of area or out of state to find certain raw materials or services? What are the “downstream” uses of products and services provided by existing firms? We would like to start turning the tide of people living in the parish and out-commuting to work. A more diversified employment base will help.

What are Ascension Parish’s strengths?

I don’t know of another community that can boast of the level and variety of support services available in Ascension to our key employers. Most of these are small- to medium-sized businesses, which are owned by local people who have a vested interest in our community beyond their business. Our location on the river and I-10 in the midst of the Gulf Coast’s “energy alley” is another key factor.

What are some of the challenges to economic development in Ascension?

With most of the key arteries in Ascension Parish being state roads and highways, funding for improvements is difficult to obtain from the state, given that there are 63 other parishes wanting their own piece of that pie. The general lack of municipal-type wastewater treatment outside of our municipalities is another serious challenge to future economic development.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about the parish?

I had heard of the joie de vivre of the people in south Louisiana and had a limited exposure to it on previous visits to the region. But I didn’t fully appreciate it until I actually moved here. It really is different here than anywhere else, and that’s a hard thing to achieve in our “cookie cutter” world. Don’t let go of it!

Advocate staff writer Ellyn Couvillion