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Eight State Advocate CEOs

More CEOs and business owners are going to bat for their cities and states, boosting economic-development efforts to benefit everyone they live around, as well as their own enterprises. Here are eight exemplars of this trend:

Adryenn Ashley, Founder and President, Wow! Is Me, Reno, Nevada

The mobile-tech entrepreneur from Marin County decamped to Reno a few years ago and hasn’t looked back, becoming a huge booster of the area to colleagues back in California. The 44-year-old boasts of its cheap housing, lack of traffic and growing tech enclave—recognized by Apple’s plans to plunk a $1 billion online-data center there. “I drag a lot of my friends from Silicon Valley back to Reno and to stay for a day or two,” says Ashley, who’s also helping start a local film festival. “It’s where entrepreneurs go who want to have a life.”

Alan Dabbiere Chairman, AirWatch, Sandy Springs, Georgia

Metro Atlanta is emerging as a mobile-technology hub, and the 51-year-old founder of a wireless-security firm has traveled from Barcelona to California working with the local business chamber to support it. He promotes a place that has succeeded in feeding AirWatch’s own growth to about 650 people locally. Dabbiere plans to more than double that number in the next year and acknowledges that “it’s counterproductive in the short term” to try to lure mobile-tech companies that will want to hire many of the same people. “But I also see the bigger, long-term picture,” he says.

J. Patrick Doyle President & CEO, Domino’s Pizza, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Doyle is one of 80 CEOs of Michigan’s largest companies—an unusual, if not unique, group nationwide—in Business Leaders for Michigan, and they’re targeting higher education as the most important way for the state to build on the increasing business friendliness of its fiscal policies. “Making higher education more affordable again and increasing the percentage of the population with four-year degrees will drive growth,” says the 49-year-old Doyle, a Michigan native whose company employs about 500 people just a few miles from the University of Michigan—including nearly 200 in IT.

Diane Hendricks Chairman, Hendricks Holding, Beloit, Wisconsin

As far as this billionaire is concerned, the best thing Diane Hendricks could have done for Wisconsin’s business climate, she did: donate a breathtaking half-million dollars to Gov. Scott Walker’s successful defense of his seat last year. The 66-year-old building-supply and real-estate magnate also provides new sites in Beloit for companies from across the nearby southern border, including software outfit Comply365. “Now I have a [state] government that’s going to support my growth,” Hendricks says. “I’m investing money in Wisconsin that I was hesitant to spend before.”

Jeff Kaney CEO, Kaney Group, Rockford, Illinois

The head of a $20 million aerospace-equipment supplier is working to boost the attractiveness of the area in a handful of capacities, including as chairman of the Rockford Area Aerospace Network. Kaney was able to nab seven of the state’s nine slots at the Paris Air Show this year for local companies. He acknowledges “an altruistic motivation but one that’s selfish at the same time” to promote the area as a cluster for his industry. But he keeps fighting the toxic Illinois tax climate. “We might be here forever,” says the 46-year-old, “but this isn’t the family farm.”

Pete Khanna CEO, TrackVia, Denver

Colorado’s Front Range, its most populous region, has been fertile for tech startups for some time, but Khanna believes that the Denver-to-Boulder strip can grow into a much more formidable hub for companies like his database concern. So the 41-year-old was a big player in launching Startup Week in Denver last year and presents at the annual VC conference in Beaver Creek. “CEOs have an obligation to try to make where they live and work a great place and to drive the economic climate,” he says. “There are opportunities outside of Silicon Valley to build a strong startup community.”

Geoff Mackay President and CEO, Organogenesis, Canton, Massachusetts

Mackay regards the thriving life-sciences sector of the Massachusetts economy as a state treasure, so he fosters “bumping and mingling among constituents” and lobbying government “to do what’s right to keep the jobs and life-saving medicines coming,” says the 46-year-old. He chairs MassBio and he has been named to a new state advisory commission on health policy. “We invest for decades and spend hundreds of millions of dollars betting on innovation,” Mackay says. “Eventually, we’re reimbursed in the health care system. It’s important [that] we have a seat at the table.”

Tarek Sherif Chairman and CEO, Medidata Solutions, New York

Medidata provides cloud-based, clinical-development information, and the 50-year-old Sherif has been boosting the tech-entrepreneurship chops of Gotham by mentoring CEOs of startups and supporting local university programs that foster business innovators. He recently advised one protégé founder to pay a sales rainmaker more than he makes; that’s what Sherif did with Medidata. “We got to the maturity and scale where we thought it would be very important not just to be inwardly focused but to help other companies in our environment,” he says. “A more vibrant environment for programmers helps all of us.”

2013 Best & Worst States for Business Links

2013 Best & Worst States for Business – Homepage
States More Aggressive in Competing With One Another
California Dreaming
Playing the Incentives Game
8 State Advocate CEOs
How CEOs Grade the States
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About Dale Buss

Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.