MARY MEAUX — Terry Stokes shows real life application of economic development

Published 12:03 am Thursday, December 8, 2022

When I first sat down to talk with Terry Stokes I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I had reached out to him as soon as I knew he was a candidate for CEO of the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation, but the timing wasn’t right so the meeting was delayed.

I think the most interesting part of the interview happened when I asked if he had anything he wanted to add to the conversation.

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And with that opening Stokes laid out a story that went full circle in explaining economic development by using a real world application.

His story began with a project at Norfolk State University. It was not far from where he grew up and was where his parents met.

As a project manager Stokes was tasked with bring property out of blight while bringing online a 25-acre research park.

There was a church that butted up to the university property that had been there forever, he said. The pastor was so opposed to the research park and would visit city hall to complain, even though the project was not the city’s.

In speaking with the pastor Stokes learned the pastor was worried the university would take his parking area and the park would not be a church-type environment. Stokes was familiar with the area and knew, just like others from that area, that when a storm came through, the church would flood and the sewage would back up.

(Keep that bit of info stored for later in the story).

One day when the infrastructure was in the ground and the building coming up, Stokes was headed to his car and saw the pastor running towards him.

Worried the pastor was mad at something, his first thought was maybe he should have found a cot and stayed in his office, Stokes said with a chuckle.

But as he approached he noticed the pastor’s eyes were welling up with tears. The pastor put his arms around Stokes’ neck and cried while Stokes asked him what’s wrong.

“Mr. Stokes, there’s a special place in Heaven for you,” he said — which was not what Stokes thought he would hear.

The tears were joyful tears.

The pastor finally said “the toilets don’t back up anymore.”

It seems that in order to build the research park there needed to be some infrastructure work done. This work ended up taking care of the church’s problems.

Sidewalks were also added for Stokes’ project, which ultimately benefited the church and parking was enhanced, another plus for the pastor and congregation.

The pastor was surprised and pleased at the work, which ended up as part of Stokes background in economic development.

With a smile on his face Stokes looked to me and said, “this is why I do what I do.”

Mary Meaux is a news reporter at The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at