STARKVILLE — Jerry Toney had promised Robert Clark that the Greater Starkville Development Partnership would have a new CEO by the time Clark took over for Toney as board chairman earlier this year.
It didn’t happen, but Clark said at Friday’s announcement of he Partnership’s new CEO, Mike Tagert, that he was willing to let it slide.
Starting Jan. 7, Tagert will fill a position that has been open for almost 18 months at Starkville’s chief economic development and tourism group. He will also be associate director for corporate engagement and economic development in the Research and Economic Development office at Mississippi State University, a new dual role for the Partnership CEO.
MSU and the Partnership already both work to create jobs and improve the quality of life in the Starkville area, so it makes sense to fuse their efforts, Tagert told The Dispatch.
“The crux of the work is to make certain that when we’re able to attract national and international investment to our community, these people understand that it’s not only a good place to work, it’s also a fantastic place to live,” he said.
Tagert has been the Northern District transportation commissioner since 2011, but he chose not to run for re-election, meaning his tenure in that role ends Dec. 31.
He also ran in a special election in 2015 to fill the open District 1 U.S. House of Representatives seat but lost in a nonpartisan primary.
Tagert previously served as administrator of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority and president of the organization’s respective trade association, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Development Council. Most of his career has been devoted to economic and community development, qualifying him for the CEO job, he and Clark both said.
Tagert said he had already felt like an informal member of the Partnership team as a state official, having worked with the Partnership before to secure grant funding for road and sidewalk construction and keep the organization up to date on those projects.
The most recent Partnership CEO, Scott Maynard, stepped down in June 2018 after almost a year in the position. Several members of the board, including Toney and Mayor Lynn Spruill, became a search committee for Maynard’s successor the following month, Clark said.
The Partnership wanted the new CEO to have fundraising experience, an understanding of community development and a solid work ethic, and to be “highly motivated” and “a proven leader and team builder,” Clark said.
Those were just a few qualities the committee was looking for, he said.
“The journey got a little long, probably a little longer than what we had anticipated or would have hoped for, but we simply would not compromise on what we wanted and we would not lower the bar,” Clark said.
Jennifer Prather, the Partnership’s director of tourism at the time, was the interim CEO until she left on Oct. 1 to become director of community development for the Mississippi Main Street Association.
Prather’s departure did not add any urgency to the CEO search, Clark told The Dispatch, because the committee was looking for someone who “checks every single one of those boxes” and found the ideal candidate in Tagert.
Spruill agreed that Tagert is the best person for the job.
“Mike brings an extraordinary skill set of professionalism and understanding of the political components so necessary to make a community successful,” Spruill said. “He has a tremendous relationship with all of our partners and we couldn’t have found a better leader for our business organization.”
Tagert said the promotional side of tourism will be a new experience for him, but he looks forward to it and his role in MSU’s Research and Economic Development office.
“That corporate engagement phrase is key because (the Partnership is) recruiting and doing such a fantastic job of getting those corporate investments,” Tagert said.
The position will further the efforts of the city, county, university and business community to make Starkville an attractive place to live, work, visit and retire, Clark said.
“This unique role is basically a representation of the fact that we’re all intertwined with a common goal,” he said.