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Evans focused on high-tech for economic development

A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

Dwight H. Evans, president and CEO of Mississippi Power Co., is chairman of Mississippi Technology Inc., a nonprofit organization created by the Legislature to parlay recent telecommunications successes into high-paying jobs for Mississippians. A proven leader, Evans also serves as chairman of the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development and will serve as chairman of the Mississippi Economic Council in the coming year.

Evans, who began his career as an engineer at Georgia Power, is a graduate of Harvard University’s Program for Management Development, The Wharton School’s Executive Accounting and Finance Program and holds a law degree from Atlanta Law School. He is also a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology. A member of the board of directors of Mississippi Power Co., Evans is a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta-New Orleans branch, and holds many other leadership positions in the community.

Last week, the Mississippi Business Journal chatted with Evans about the role of Mississippi Technology Inc. in economic development, its alliance with the state’s universities and the Institute for Technology Development and the growth of the telecommunications industry.

Mississippi Business Journal: How important of a role do you think Mississippi Technology Inc., will be in economic development? Advantages? Potential spin-offs?

Dwight Evans: MTI is an important first step. First, it recognizes the importance of gaining high-tech jobs for Mississippians and sets forth a process to begin moving us in that direction. If we are to capture the potential that lies before Mississippi, we must provide high paying jobs for our people. We must move our economic development effort toward those areas of employment where skills and pay come together.

Second, it involves the private sector. If we look at those states that are gaining high-tech jobs, we find that there is a high involvement of private sector leadership.

Third, it does not change the role of the public sector. MTI will still need the effort and support of those who are involved in the public sector.

What it can do is galvanize our effort around a sector of the economy that will produce our greatest reward and one that already has a base in our state and channel our efforts among those who have a stake in the success of our great state.

MBJ: It has been said that MTI will be closely allied with the Institute for Technology Development. What role will ITD play in MTI’s goals?

DE: ITD plays an important role in technology development today and that will continue. If we are to be successful we must find a way to bring research and commercialization to full implementation. The commercialization of ideas is what ITD will likely continue to do best and will be a strong complement to MTI.

MBJ: The plan will bring in state, private and federal dollars to accomplish the missions of MTI on a project-by-project basis. Are there particular projects in the works? Are private funds already committed? If so, please specify.

DE: It is much too early to begin to talk about specific projects. We have very strong research universities in our state that are beginning to develop centers of excellence. We’ve got to maximize these efforts and find ways to create new avenues of research as well.

We must remember that MTI is in its infancy, and we must first begin to determine what avenues are available to us immediately. We are beginning to assess that at this time, soliciting input from many people across the state. As we develop a more comprehensive plan of action, we will begin to solicit funding from a variety of sources.

MBJ: How responsive have the state’s universities been to MTI?

DE: The universities are central to our concept and have been involved in the process of attempting to maximize our potential through MTI. As I said earlier, we have major research projects already underway at our universities and MTI certainly wants to find ways to help our universities maximize those efforts. MTI will allow universities to do best what they do in areas of research.

MBJ: Do you have a president for MTI yet? If not, where are you in the recruitment process and, excluding participation from powerful board members, how large is MTI’s staff projected to be?

DE: We are looking for the best person to lead this effort. It is an important effort for our state and we must be sure that we provide the leadership that will help us reach our potential. While we are actively looking for that person, we have not reached a decision at this time. The size of the staff will be determined by the success of the organization. We must be prudent with the money we have and we have potential support from a number of sources. Right now we’re looking at finding the person that can lead us and then we’ll move forward on additional staff needs.

MBJ: MTI brings the promise of economic growth to the telecommunications industry in the state. How does it differ from the ITD?

DE: MTI covers all technology, not just telecommunications. MTI is an umbrella organization that performs more like an orchestra leader, rather than one of the players in the orchestra. Its role is to be a catalyst, causing the right things to happen without necessarily performing the actions. ITD, on the other hand, covers a broad area of technology and is one of the action players, along with others. MTI is a different concept from ITD. MTI looks to maximize efforts across a lot of different fronts.

We want to bring resources, expertise and commercialization together in such a way that Mississippians benefit through high paying jobs that are rewarding and ongoing.

MBJ: Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said, “MTI holds the key to unleashing Mississippi’s huge technological capacity, which in turn holds the key to the creation of high-paying jobs in Mississippi.” Do you have statistics or projections for MTI that you can share with the business community?

DE: I would not begin to speak for the governor’s intent but I think what we have right now is potential for creating a high-tech community that in part already exists within our state. We have major technology based industries already in our state that we must secure and enhance.

We have a strong telecommunications industry, a computer industry, high-tech ship building, the Stennis Space Center, research centers in polymers, acoustics. We’ve got to find out how we can bring together the elements necessary to enhance this environment to bring our economy into an age where future jobs will exist and multiply. I think MTI will be the catalyst for this transition.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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