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Transition into Mississippi Development Authority unfolding

Changes continue at economic development agency

JACKSON – Since the Legislature passed Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s new economic development plan, and the Mississippi Department of Economic and

Community Development was transformed into the Mississippi Development Authority, or MDA, reorganization plans that were once on hold have begun to unfold.

“We have appointed all of our senior management team and filled most key executive positions,” said Sherry Vance, director of communications for MDA. “We have

been filling positions on a continuous basis with front end review to determine that they are essential to the operation. All positions are and have been allocated to the

divisions.”

Prior to the special session, the state economic department listed 379 total positions, of which only 305 were filled. At the same time last year, only 319 were filled.

The gap was not attributed to budget cutbacks, a hiring freeze or a mass exodus, but rather awaiting the outcome of the Advantage Mississippi Initiative (AMI) as

hiring plans were placed on hold, Vance said.

Under the agency transition plan, MDA’s new senior management team consists of Vance, deputy director Jay Moon, director of administration Mike Larson, legal

counsel Steve Pittman, director of tourism Darienne Wilson and Michael Booker, senior advisor to executive director J.C. Burns.

Prior to the passage of the AMI, the national and the international development divisions had already been combined into a single division, headed by Harry Gibbs.

The newly combined division, with Mickey Milligan named as a key manager, calls for the recruiting staff to work together as a team, sharing resources and

coordinating activities. A new events planning unit will be established to coordinate logistics associated with missions, trade shows and events sponsored by the

division and MDA.

“When recruiting, it doesn’t matter if industry is domestic or international, many of the same concerns and needs are handled, and many customers fall under both

categories,” Vance said. “With this change, both divisions are working together much more closely with a singular role in a marketing strategy to attract industry to the

state.”

Other highlights from the agency transition plan:

• The restructuring of the tourism development division will include the establishment of a sales and marketing bureau, which combines the international and domestic

marketing activities of the tourism division under a single manager, Mary Beth Wilkerson. The welcome centers, the film office and support services will remain intact

with limited staff reassignments.

In MDA’s proposed budget for FY2002, the largest budget item was an additional $2.25 million for promotion of the state’s tourism industry.

• All media relations and public relations functions for MDA have been consolidated under the communications office, which will include the economic development

advertising function, while the tourism development division retains the tourism advertising function.

• Clay Lewis, formerly with the financial resources division, has been appointed to oversee the science and technology function, which is being transferred to the

executive director’s office.

• Kenneth Calvin will remain acting director of the energy division, and the division’s objectives will be reassessed to more closely match MDA’s mission. Donnie

Moncure will continue as acting director of the Minority Business Enterprise Development Division, and Jean Denson will serve as director of the Employment Training

Division until a replacement is selected.

• Dr. Mabel Murphree was appointed manager of the Appalachian Regional Commission office in Tupelo. Congress established the ARC in 1965 to support and

promote economic and social development in 13 states that make up the Appalachian region. The program was implemented in Mississippi in 1967. Prior to

Murphree’s appointment, Nancy Knight, who had worked for ARC since its inception in 1968 and was named director in 1998 when Glenn McCullough stepped

down to run for mayor of Tupelo, managed the Mississippi office.

Last month, Burns pitched MDA’s proposed FY2002 budget at the Joint Legislative Budget Committee hearings, asking for $151 million to continue its economic

development efforts, and asking for another $5.2 million in special project funds, including paying the $197,000 increase in rent when MDA moves from its offices in

the Sillers Building later this year.

Because of an expected drop in revenue for the next budget cycle, the MDA was one of many state agencies that requested a funding increase separate from primary

budget requests. If the $5.2 million is not approved, the department will have to prioritize existing programs and make several cuts, Burns said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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