Newly appointed President + CEO,
Ascension Economic Development Corp
Kate MacArthur has been on a southerly trajectory for more than a decade. Growing up outside of Philadelphia, she attended college in Gettysburg before spending time in Washington, D.C., then made the big leap southward to earn her master’s degree at the University of Southern Mississippi.
That’s when she first got the economic development bug. “As part of that program, I interned in the planning and economic development department for a small rural town, and it was fascinating,” MacArthur says. She learned something in the process—that she had the right skillset for managing the give and take of interactions with area industry.
Her fate took an irrevocable turn when she visited Baton Rouge one weekend. She immediately fell in love with the city’s vibrant, small-town feel, and later landed a job at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber in business intelligence research marketing. In that role, she became intimately knowledgeable about the area—including Ascension Parish. Little did she know that one day she would take on a leadership role in economic development there.
In mid-March, MacArthur replaced departing Ascension Economic Development Corp. chief Mike Eades, after her most recent stint in a similar role at the Zachary Chamber of Commerce. Just two weeks into the job, 10/12 Industry Report sat down with MacArthur to hear about her plans for the organization.
How do your personal and professional strengths prepare you for your new role?
I think one of my strengths is an ability to build teams that work together. Economic developers are like middlemen: We just connect all the moving pieces. My job is to facilitate job creation. It’s getting the right people at the table and directing that vision.
Essentially, my job is to marry corporations with people. I believe that to be successful as a community and society, we must continue moving forward and pursue those things that promote growth. Related to that, I think one of my personal strengths is being able to relate to people, and in the process, I’m better able to promote a shared vision of growth.
What are your immediate goals for AEDC?
We’re working on our response at the local level to changes to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program. Previously, the state would award exemptions with no input from the local level. Now, the locals get to decide what they want to give in the way of tax exemptions, and to what extent.
So we need to figure out what that will look like … what kind of resolution we are going to write. We have formed a task force comprised of all the people who would need to be part of the decision making, as well as working on structuring a document and getting everyone to agree to it.
It’s important that we eliminate any uncertainty about the program, so how we’re going to handle that will be the biggest thing to tackle right off the bat.
Do you notice any impediments to growth in Ascension Parish?
To lay a foundation for the future, we need to adequately address our infrastructure and workforce development needs. I think a lot of what I do is going to be focused on how to find funds to address those things.
The goal is to have adequate infrastructure in place to make project recruitment easier, so people can get out of the plants, onto the interstate and where they need to go. If not addressed, this could potentially impede our ability to attract new industry.
Regarding workforce development, the model for the future will be marrying industry with education centers. If you look at the pipeline of potential anticipated jobs, we’re looking at thousands of jobs, and that’s just for those projects that are further along.
Would you say that Louisiana Economic Development’s FastStart program is a vital component of this training model?
Training is a significant cost for employers, and when you train them but don’t retain them for long then you not only lose the employee but the dollars invested in them. To an extent, FastStart alleviates that through prescreening and specialized training programs.
What do you feel is the ultimate mission for AEDC going forward?
Essentially, it’s the continued growth of projects. The petrochemical industry is huge in the background of this parish, so we want to continue promoting co-locations and other programs that really utilize those assets. Obviously, we already have a nice portfolio of LED-certified sites in place here, ready for development, so we’re really geared for industrial development.
At the same time, we do want to diversify as much as we can in a way that is advantageous. I wouldn’t say that we’re going to be a software development mecca here in Ascension Parish, but we’re always open to new industries.
This article was originally published in the second quarter 2017 edition of 10/12 Industry Report.