It’s 11 a.m. on the second Friday of the month, and Mike Tarantino is sitting in the studio of New Iberia’s KANE radio doing what he does best: enthusiastically talking about Iberia Parish and the positive plans that are in the works for it.
Since becoming President and CEO of Iberia Industrial Development Foundation (IDF) in 2003, Tarantino’s focus has been on economic development – and all that entails – for the parish. Also serving as Executive Director of Iberia Development Foundation,
the organization’s 501(c)(3) arm, his mission is rooted in community development, enhancing the work force and the quality of living in New Iberia, Jeanerette, Loreauville and Delcambre, and growing the Port of Iberia, as well as the Acadiana Regional Airport and LeMaire Memorial Airport Industrial Park Complexes.
A large portion of his work with IDF is identifying opportunities and making changes that put Iberia Parish in a better position for growth and development. In doing so he has become keenly aware of how the economy applies to all aspects of a community and has learned to be a bit of an expert in many areas.
If you don’t live in New Iberia, a short conversation with Tarantino will have you wishing you did. “This is a wonderful community and a cool place to live, with history, roots, a hard-working, multi-generational workforce, great schools, and the arts,” he says with his customary enthusiasm. “A lot of people envy us and want to live and work here.”
In New Iberia, where Tarantino was once a Boy Scout and played high school football, he works to bring more businesses to the city – and the parish – while helping current businesses thrive. His job covers a wide spectrum of duties, from planning and project management to product development, and from business retention and expansion to new business recruitment.
Although he is always looking at the broader business landscape, this year his focus is on diversification of the economy. While the oil industry has played an important role in creating jobs in Iberia Parish, Tarantino is working to expand the economy beyond that industry – and he has been known to go the distance to make that happen. “We’re investing more in ourselves to prepare the groundwork for more economic growth, and we’re rolling out the red carpet,” he exclaims. “Our doors are wide open for business concepts that are good for our economy.”
With an open mind and an ear toward the needs of existing and new employers, Tarantino is working with South Louisiana Community College and Iberia Medical Center in workforce training to provide the industrial-level skill sets that he understands are needed – namely registered nurses, mechanics and machinists.
As an associate member of the Ports Association of Louisiana and having served as interim director of Acadiana Regional Airport for two years, Tarantino knows well that the Port of Iberia and the airport are economic drivers for Iberia Parish. He is currently working with the airport to develop some of its surrounding unused land and to find more hangar space for prospective tenants. He’s encouraged to see the startup of the Acadiana Gulf of Mexico Access Channel dredging project, deepening the channel from the Port to the Gulf and allowing heavier vessels and equipment.
“Other companies are beginning to be interested in our parish, because we have diversity, and they want to be here, too,” says Tarantino. He points to a recent example of Turner Industries, a large industrial construction company, which set up operations at the Port of Iberia.
Anyone in economic development will agree that successes like these come from building and nurturing relationships. Tarantino seems to have mastered a set of skills displaying clear and honest communication, a knack for connecting people with people, and a grasp for the art of persuasion.
“I want to bring the best in economic and community development to the Parish and make sure the IDF and community are getting the latest and greatest practices and technology,” he says. That can-do spirit is what earned Tarantino the Richard E. Baudoin, Jr. Friend of Business Award in 2018, from the Junior Achievement of Acadiana Business Hall of Fame.
Since becoming president of IDF, Tarantino has learned to balance
the nuances of expressing a sense of urgency, while maintaining more than the average dose of patience. “I’m action-oriented. I want things to happen now,” he admits. “But in economic development, there is no instant gratification. I was [previously] in the corporate banking industry, and the private sector works at a much faster pace than the public sector. I’ve learned to be understanding and flexible of the fact that many months and years can go into preparing for a project.”
While his job requires maintaining a certain level of confidentiality, Tarantino firmly believes in being transparent when it comes to keeping the public informed. “If we expect the community to invest and be a part of the plan, then communication is one of the most important things,” he stresses. In addition to his regular spots on radio, he appears on a monthly Facebook Live segment, called “Coffee and Conversation,” where guests join Tarantino in discussions of economic development in the area. Also in the works for later this year is a new podcast.
As a former marine, Tarantino says his naval experience taught him disciplines that he utilizes to this day: having a goal and a well-thought-out strategy, being organized, and sticking to the plan. That effectiveness as a leader was noted when he recently received the Toastmasters International Communication and Leadership Award.
“I love to finish what I start,” says the man whose workday begins between 6:30 and 7 a.m. “A lot of meetings start at seven-thirty, with five or six others of various lengths scheduled with business prospects, elected officials, commercial realtors, contractors, investors or small business owners. I’ll have anywhere from forty to fifty emails and another forty to fifty phone calls to return. The office closes at five o’clock, but,” he says with a smile, “there are often evening meetings with the board or parish and city councils.”
Tarantino credits a “wonderful staff” for helping it all come together, and says, “The IDF is known by its peer organizations throughout the state because of all the folks that work together – the board, as well as partners in the parish and city government.”
Outside of the IDF, Tarantino has immersed himself in several leadership roles throughout the years, most recently as:
- Acadiana's representative with the Louisiana Business Emergency Operations Center, connecting economic development and business to disaster coordination and recovery
- Iberia Parish's representative on the Workforce Investment Board - Region 40
- Member of the Industrial Board of Iberia Parish
- Acadiana's representative on the Louisiana Board of International Commerce
He represents Iberia Parish and the Acadiana region on many boards and commissions, including the Louisiana Industrial Development Executives Association, One Acadiana, the Acadiana Economic Development Council, and Bayou Teche Museum.
As an active member of both the Southern and International Economic Development Councils, Tarantino says confidently, "I know what the most successful economic development programs are doing across the country and I'm bringing those practices to Iberia Parish."
While the idea of entering the political arena has crossed his mind, the husband and father of two says his skills are best utilized as IDF. "I love this community," he says sincerely. "I want to make it a place where [our two sons] and multi-generations want to stay with their families. We want Iberia Parish to continue to grow."