By LYNNE WILBANKS JETER
MBJ Contributing Writer
Nearly 400 business leaders from central Mississippi gathered at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson last Wednesday to learn more about the results of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development’s (MDECD) 13-city tour and agenda for the upcoming legislative special session.
“Just the fact that this many people turned out midweek, in the middle of the afternoon on a hot summer day, on very short notice, is evidence that the business community is ready to move ahead with a plan that will get us to the next level,” said Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council.
Since being named director of MDECD earlier this year, J.C. Burns has toured the state seeking input from the public and private sector about reorganizing the state’s economic development plan.
“We want to share today what we learned in our meetings and how we can be competitive with other states,” said Burns, who emphasized that MDECD is working with the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development on the joint project. “It’s time to get feedback from the business community.”
In his opening remarks, Burns explained the purpose of the special legislative session: to focus on economic development, competition from other states and to move low-tech/low-wage jobs to high-tech/high-wage jobs. MDECD contracted with KPMG, the firm that played a role in the location of the Mercedes and Honda plants near Birmingham, to analyze the state’s competitive characteristics.
“The purpose of this workshop is to solicit input, identify key issues, prioritize and develop a consensus,” Burns said.
While presenting an analysis of Mississippi’s incentives program, Buzz Canup of KPMG, said, “Investing in incentives is investing in the state.”
“I’m here to provide insights into how people look at Mississippi from a strategic perspective, and the key is the incentive program,” Canup said. “Incentives can never make a bad location look good, but incentives can make a good location look better.”
The first state tax incentive occurred in 1791 when New Jersey offered Alexander Hamilton a tax abatement to locate a manufacturing plant there, Canup said.
“What do you think happened next? New York offered a better deal,” Canup said. “That’s why it’s important to not only know targeted industries and planned incentives, but to also know what your competitors are doing. You’re not only competing with the state next door, but also with Ireland, Singapore, Mexico and China.”
Preliminary targeted industries chosen for comparison against six competitor states on cost factors and incentives include automotive; medical devices; aerospace; chemicals, plastics and polymers; warehousing and distributing; communications and information technology with headquarter operations only and those with light manufacturing operations.
“After our community meetings in Oxford and Hattiesburg, we’ll assess the information and meet again with the business community, probably the week of July 10, to focus on fine tuning it.”
An implementation date for the new state economic development plan is Aug. 13, Burns said.
Business folks that gathered for the briefing included numerous leaders from almost every sector with the exception of education, where Hinds Community College chief Clyde Muse appeared to be the sole representative.
John A. Deddens, director of the Small Business Development Center at Holmes Community College, said he was impressed with the diversity of the groups that have participated in the process.
“It’s very good for our state to have input from diverse groups for Mississippi’s new economic development plan instead of having plans put together by elite groups, as it has sometimes been done in the past,” Deddens said.
Janita Stewart, district director of the Small Business Administration, said the SBA and MDECD are working closely together to address issues of small and minority-owned businesses.
“I’m glad MDECD is sincerely interested in trying to improve conditions within the state and focus on areas that haven’t benefited from economic development the way other parts of our state have,” Stewart said.
EDITOR`S NOTE: In the coming weeks, the Mississippi Business Journal will publish a series of stories about the revamping of the state’s economic development strategy.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 364-1018.