JACKSON – Less than six months after the untimely death of Hinds County Economic Development District executive director Sonny McDonald, a new staff is in
place and a new fiscal year is beginning.
Jason Brookins, 32, a Meridian native, a captain in the Mississippi Air National Guard and graduate of the master’s program in economic development at the
University of Southern Mississippi, recently wrapped up his initial 60 days as manager of the five-person office where McDonald trained him.
“Because of the circumstances, it was difficult coming back to HCEDD and Sonny not being here,” Brookins said. “He trained me in this business and helped me
understand things they don`t teach you in school. I don`t even try to think I could step into his shoes. He was so well-known and well-liked, an icon in the business
Just days after McDonald died on May 1, Steven C. Hardin, then director of business development, was asked by the board of trustees to serve as interim director.
Brookins, who had left HCEDD last October after a five-year stint as assistant director of business development, went to work at the Mississippi Department of
Economic and Community Development (MDECD), where he had previously interned.
During the summer, Hardin, who had already accepted a job offer from MDECD, now the Mississippi Development Authority, left in the summer. Brookins returned
to HCEDD on Aug. 1.
“Louis Beverly, the president of the board of trustees, stepped up when we were at a time of great need and took care of business,” Brookins said.
Louis Beverly Jr., past president of the board of trustees, said, “For someone who`s supposed to be retired, the spring and summer was a very busy period for me,
more than I ever dreamed possible. In spite of it all, we have a better group of people as an end result of what Mr. McDonald did for us and Hinds County. Sonny
was a good man who did not leave us in a great bind because he left us a blueprint for economic development and working together.”
Instead of being named executive director, Brookins was named manager, a newly created position.
Lonnie Wesley serves as assistant director of business development, and the position of director of business development has not yet been filled. A nationwide search
for an executive director will begin later this year.
“I`m not in Sonny`s chair,” Brookins said. “I`m the manager until such time that I am either put in competition with other people and the selection is made for an outside
executive director to come in, or for me to take that role. Whatever happens then will determine what happens to the position of director of business development.
However, none of that is written in stone.”
Brookins` top priority has been working on HCEDD`s budget for FY2001, which began Oct. 1. The agency received a 10% budget cut over the previous year, from
$600,000 to $540,000, a budget wholly funded by the county board of supervisors.
“The area that we`ll cut will probably take place under the community development initiative headed by Sharron Cunningham, in which we give small, non-recurring,
one-time grants to small municipalities outside Jackson or Clinton for beautification and infrastructure improvements to encourage growth and attract industry,”
“As it stands, $60,000 in grants, about the amount the budget will be cut, is about what we`ve given out in FY2000. We`ll probably put the grants on hold until next
year when we can further evaluate our funds,” he said.
With the beginning of a new fiscal year, Brookins will be working with new board of trustees president Preston Goff.
The 12-member board of trustees consists of two trustees appointed by each supervisor and two trustees appointed at-large.
“The budget was the first hurdle, the transition of the board of trustees is the next hurdle,” Brookins said.
“I`m putting together a marketing plan for the next year to determine what trade shows we`ll go to, and other plans of action. After all of that is on paper and
understood, we`ll move forward with a nationwide search for an executive director, maybe a month or two away from starting, and no telling how long it could take.”
Aside from administrative tasks, the top priority at HCEDD is recruiting industry, particularly filling up the 462-acre Wynndale Industrial Park on I-55 south of Byram,
dedicated last fall, and the only industrial park owned by HCEDD. Plans set in motion by McDonald to market the Wynndale park extensively to manufacturers of
light gauge metal will continue, with HCEDD marketing other industrial parks in the county that are either owned by municipalities or private individuals.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.