England Authority contemplates future mission as they search for a new leader

ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - After the England Authority’s longtime Executive Director resigned weeks ago, the Authority is now searching for their new leader. But ensuing is soul-searching on what the board’s mission is for the future.

England Authority's special meeting on March 3, 2018.

After 24 years on the job, Jon Grafton announced his resignation as Executive Director for the England Industrial and Economic Development District. Ronnie Hair, Grafton’s number 2, also resigned.

On Wednesday, the England Authority met in a special midday meeting where they unanimously approved a motion to hire ADK Executive Search, a consulting firm out of Florida. The cost to hire the group was $34,900.

Spearheading the search for a new executive director is Commissioner Charlie Weems who said it’s important to get a third party group to conduct the search.

“We’d be foolish to do this ourselves,” said Weems.

ADK is a firm that specializes in airport management. An aspect Weems
said was paramount with Alexandria International Airport located in the Airpark.

“We obviously have got a fabulous airport right here and to me, our first job is to make sure we don't mess that up, and we don't hire anybody that would mess that up,” said Weems.

But others want a focus on economic development. Commissioner Joe Mcpherson is one of those. Mcpherson was a state senator who helped create the England Industrial and Economic Development District after the military ceased operations in the early 90’s. He wants to make sure the authority doesn’t become a “glorified airport commission.”

"Are we looking for a new airport manager, or are we looking for an economic developer that could have a focus on economic development activities with the idea that we are the England Economic and Industrial Development District,” said Mchperson. “We need to concentrate on creating value-added jobs to add wealth to this community to help generations of people have good paying jobs."

"But we also have a responsibility for economic development and I don't really think there is an argument about that," said Weems.

Alexandria City Councilman Ed Larvadain also addressed the board, calling for them to focus on economic development.

“(Alexandria) Mayor, City Council doesn’t know how to make jobs, we are a bunch of trial lawyers,” said Larvadain. “Y’all are the entity that can do this, City of Alexandria can’t do it.”

But Weems said they are only a piece of the puzzle.

"I think we are one of the players in the economic development game," said Weems. "Unless we are what Mcpherson thinks we are and can spend millions of dollars outside the Airpark for economic development, then we are just one of the players in the parish."

But at what length can the England Authority fund economic development? Commissioners discussed if they could use their money to develop sites off the England Airpark. Commissioner Weems said he believes the district's founding documents prohibited them to use airport money outside of the Airpark. Several commissioners including Mcpherson and Mike Johnson asked what needs to be done to do that. Grafton responded that is something that would have to be researched for legality.

“Cenla is lacking economic development, and we are the only group with resources to change that,” said Mcpherson.

Chairman of the England Authority, Scott Linzay, called the England Airpark a “success story.” However, he said when it comes to competing for large companies, they fall short due to lack of state money or a trained workforce.

Weems said ADK will create a job description for the position of executive director, and commissioners will have input on what that will be. AKD will then send out the opening to tens of thousands of applicants, narrowing it down to 10 or 12 and include at least one local applicant.

Weems said ADK will be able to complete that process in at least two and a half months.

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