Roger Feagley, the Executive Director of the Sulpher Springs/Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation, is somewhat of a legend in the local Economic Development world, and he has the stories to prove it. We’re thrilled that he is joining us for our Texas Economic Development Forum in September, and we’re honored to sit down and chat with him a bit beforehand so you can get to know him a bit better. Prepare to be charmed and inspired, folks, because Roger is one of a kind, and we can’t wait for you to meet him.
Before we get started, can you give us a quick bio, so our readers know a bit about who you are and your experience in ED? I began my EDC career 28 years ago in Mansfield, Texas. While there, we did 50+ projects, including a plant for Mitsubishi. I retired and went to work in Arlington. While there, we did an expansion of the General Motors plant and ATT Stadium for the Cowboys. ( I have a really funny Jerry Jones story). I then took the job in SULPHUR Springs EDC. My wife and I always wanted to live in a rural setting. In Sulphur Springs, we have developed farmland to industrial parks and began a build-to-suit program. Which allows us the ability to hopefully became self-sufficient even without the sales tax.
What did you want to be when you were growing up and why? My goal when I left high school was to help people. I became a firefighter/paramedic. This made me a third-generation fireman. That has very little to do with ED. Funny how I got my first job. I was temporally assigned to the city manager’s office. He has two simple tasks for me to do, and then he said we are doing a nationwide search for an EDC Director, and he wanted me to get it started. I did not know what economic development was, but I found a tiny notebook titled ‘Basic Economic Development’ published by Southwestern Bell Telephone. It was 8 pages long. After reading those 8 pages, I told myself, ‘this is sales. I was a marketing major for two semesters I can do this.’ My degree is in planning, so I was at a disadvantage. I thought I was going to sell something, but I needed to know what I had to sell. So I was really high-tech with a three-ring binder, highlighter, and a copy machine. I started an inventory of vacant sites and their utilities, and because of my experience with the Fire Marshall, I knew the fire department had “pre-fire plans’ drawings of all the buildings, so I went there and copied them. One day the city manager came to me and asked what I was doing, so I showed him my three-ring binder. He looked at it and then asked if I wanted to apply for the position. I said no because I wanted to go back to the fire department. We talked a couple more times, though, and I finally said ok. That was 28 years ago.
The rest, as they say, is history.
What is the biggest risk you have taken, in either business or life in general? In business: convincing a very conservative board and community to invest in infrastructure and to build buildings …being the general contractor at risk.
On a personal level, it was convincing my wife of 40 years to go on this journey with me.
What is the WORST piece of business advice you have ever received? I was told by a well-respected EDC director that ‘this is the only business you need to go broke every year.’ But I don’t want to ever go broke I prefer to make money every year.
What is the one thing you would do differently if you could go back and start all over again? I would force myself to take more accounting classes.
What do you do for fun outside of your career? Deer hunting
What are three things you would take with you to a desert island and why? First I hate the beach so I would want a global phone so I could call someone to come get me!
Second I would bring someone who liked to fish(I hate to fish) to keep me fed. Third a hammock and a shade with some really good books so I could pass the time waiting for rescue and with my completion protection from the sun.
Spoken like a true Economic Developer, always with a plan.
And finally, you can’t leave us hanging with that Jerry Jones story. So go ahead, spill the beans if you can.
When I was in Arlington, we were deciding on whether or not we wanted to support a bid to get the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. We liked the idea because it would be an urban renewal project. So, we hired a “political consultant” to analyze our prospects.
When he made his report to the Chamber of Commerce board, we were, of course, in the board room. The board room had a “u” shaped table so a speaker could present from the middle. The Chamber board was 25 members, so all those seats were taken by board members. At the head of the table the President of the Chamber was seated, along with Jerry and Stephen Jones. Around the outside of the room were chairs that were full of staff and others that were invited.
The consultant had surveyed the community and was slicing and dicing the data. Separating by race, age, and marital status. Also those who owned homes and businesses. Everything was going as you might expect. But the last slide, he told us that one point is true over all age groups, all ethnic groups, property owners, and marital statuses, and that is, “JERRY, NO ONE LIKES YOU, AND IF YOU WANT THIS TO PASS YOU NEED TO DISAPPEAR.”
Jerry did disappear. No TV or radio, or newspaper quotes. Stephen was the voice of the Jones family during that time, but I liked Jerry more than Stephen.
Well, that juicy Jerry Jones nugget did not disappoint. And we’re, once again, grateful to Roger for taking the time to chat with us and for joining our event. For more information on the event and how to get tickets, please visit TexasEDC.com or contact us at SuperDave@D1Experts.com.