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Association promotes economic development in 18 counties

Selling the Delta easier with unified front

stoneville — Perhaps the best way to sell a community is to pitch a region.

At the very least, the major economic development players in the region should be on the same team — all for one and one for all.

Corny? Not if it works. And more and more, in economic development, groups are taking that approach with the idea that if a company doesn’t locate in my community, at least locate in the region, and if not in the region at least in the state, said Mark Manning, director of development for the Delta Council and head of the Delta Developers Association (DDA). DDA is a grass-roots marketing organization that promotes economic development in 18 western Mississippi counties.

While many economic organizations across the state have banded together for maybe a specific purpose (for example the Mississippi & Mercedes group in east central Mississippi to attract automotive suppliers), few have joined to promote economic development to the extent of the Delta Developers Association, Manning said.

“We don’t just talk about it, we do it,” he said.

Of course doing that requires those economic developers to have a unique level of trust and comfort, and maybe even respect, said Cliff Brumfield, executive director of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation. That’s important when a developer from one county knows a project won’t work in his area but recommends, and maybe even drives, them to another county they think is more suitable.

“It’s happened on more than one occasion that a colleague has sent me prospects and I’ve done the same,” Brumfield said. “But you have to build a level of trust before that can happen.”

And while it is beneficial to the developers, a regional organization is also appealing to prospects because of its convenience, and also shows that the area groups work well together, Manning said.

Despite what many think, Manning said the availability of a building doesn’t make or break deals with prospects. What does are things like affordable and available labor, low taxes and land costs and efficient and effective economic developers.

Manning said to the region’s benefit is its uniqueness of character over such a wide area. While individually cities like Clarksdale, Greenville and Vicksburg may be different, they all have enough of the same amenities and challenges to be roughly in the same boat when it comes to attracting industry.

From the outside world, Manning said, “The Delta is viewed as a homogenous area.” So it behooves economic developers who are truly interested in improving and bringing jobs to the Delta to team up and work together.

“It’s very unique for an area this geographically large, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, a lot of people talk about being cooperative and don’t do it,” he said. “We’ve got a good core of working people.”

Included in the DDA are some 11 chambers of commerce, industrial foundations and economic development organizations, as well as the Electric Power Association of Mississippi, Entergy, the Municipal Energy Associations of Mississippi and the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The DDA’s area covers the 18 counties served by the Stoneville-based Delta Council which stretches from Vicksburg to Batesville.

Formed nearly five years ago, Manning said he believes the DDA’s joint marketing efforts have begun to pay-off.

In 1997 northwest Mississippi attracted roughly $74 million in new manufacturing, warehouse and distribution investments that resulted in 948 new jobs. Existing industries added another $109 million and 2,375 new jobs through expansions.

This year a $50,000 to $60,000 marketing campaign will begin in ernest that will target new industries using trade shows, direct mail and selective advertising.

“I think we are just now to the point where we are able to take it up to the next level and that’s what this marketing report is all about,” Manning said.

The 1998 marketing report shows that DDA has identified seven broad industry groups that would fit well in the area when considering the existing industry base, suppliers, natural products and market. Those include such industries as wood and paper products, plastics, fabricated metals and industrial distribution. From those groups industries that specialize in automotive tires, wood containers, folding paper boxes, wood furniture and plastic products are just a few specific areas that will be targeted, according the DDA’s 1998 marketing plan.

Trade shows will continue to be an integral part of the DDA’s marketing efforts, Manning said.

Through trial and error, Manning said the organization has slowly discovered the type of trade shows that are the most productive. In 1998 DDA could attend and actively work as many as four trade shows that specialize in plastics, appliance manufacturing and wood products, according the marketing plan.

Before the DDA’s inception, Manning said none of his member organizations attended trade shows, primarily because of the expense involved. Now, as part of the DDA, every one of the Delta counties is represented in some fashion at the major trade shows and its has finally begun to pay dividends for the area.

Said Brumfield: “I believe that the target marketing analysis has paid for itself several fold. We’ve had a number of prospect visits over the past 24 months, some who would not have visited if it had not been for the efforts of the Mississippi Delta Developers Association.”

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