Mary Poche likes to talk, especially about economic development – growing businesses, attracting new industries, providing jobs, building communities.
As of Monday, her topic is Decatur.
The new executive director of the Decatur Economic Development Corp. – a sales-tax funded entity of the city that works to attract jobs – comes to Decatur from Pflugerville, a suburb just north of Austin. She’s excited about the opportunity to help Decatur develop as a place where business and industry will want to locate.
“I’m thankful to the EDC board, the council and the mayor for their vote of confidence in me to do the kind of job I feel is so possible here,” she said Wednesday, speaking to the Decatur Lions’ Club on only her third day on the job.
“I’m excited about where I think the community can go and will go, in making it a more vibrant, prosperous place for the younger people with new opportunities, new jobs, bringing new money into the community to make it more viable.”
Poche has only been in economic development for about the past seven years. After earning a degree in communications from the University of Texas, she worked in sales and marketing in the field of architecture and design. Her husband’s job caused them to move fairly often, so she found herself doing contract work in private industry.
“I got a real broad background not only in architecture and design, but in telecommunications and doing contract work for workforce, education entities – it gave me a very broad perspective,” she said. When they moved back to the Austin area about seven years ago, she looked for something a little more permanent.
“I sent my resume to Temple, where they were looking for a director of marketing for their EDC,” she said. “I got a call, and they were particularly interested in having somebody who had all that kind of weird background in lots of different business and industry.
“Specifically, they wanted someone who could do and understand business at what they call – and I love this phrase – ‘the speed of doing business.'”
That background in private business was Poche’s ace in the hole. She was “non-governmental” and understood that when a business is ready to move, they want to move quickly. The marketing, architecture, workforce and education experience all came in handy.
“Wrapping them all together was just kind of the perfect storm of being hired in an industry that I had not been in, but all my previous experience applied to,” she said.
She cited several big clients the EDC landed in Temple and Pflugerville and said she believes the EDC here can duplicate that success.
“Being successful, if you are interested in bringing in new business and industry, is really the ability to meet what the client’s needs are, doing business at the speed of their business,” she said.
“The EDC can be that in-between entity, able to understand the city’s needs, all the things that need to happen here, so you’re not upsetting the applecart with what has to go on on a daily basis with the water department, the health department, the public works department, etc.”
Pflugerville, she said, is much more like Decatur – a farming and ranching community where a handful of families have been around a long time and own most of the land.
“They were a bedroom town, but they wanted a vibrant community, new money coming in, places where people can work, live and shop,” she said.
After working under one director who retired, she was promoted to assistant director and helped expand existing businesses and bring in new ones.
“You have to have something to sell out of the back of your wagon,” she said. “You can have the best community in the world and everybody’s committed to it – but only you know that.”
The Pflugerville EDC bought 160 acres for an industrial park, put in infrastructure including a road, water and sewer, and was able to still sell the land at a profit to industrial clients.
“That meant the EDC taking a risk, which we did,” she said. “But we felt confident enough about the location, and we knew we had the workforce that was applicable to the kind of business that was already there and had an opportunity to expand that even further.”
A trained workforce is the hottest need for business and industrial clients nationwide, she said. That, highway and rail access, a still-developing industrial park, and a community that’s ready for growth are the assets that influenced her to take the Decatur job.
“All of these things are in place,” she said. “So when I was extended the offer, I was just thrilled that I could accept. I’m hopeful that we see some good things come from this in terms of what I know can happen with the support from the community.”