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Jackson County launching new economic development plan

PASCAGOULA – After two years of difficulties that included a lack of adequate funding and political problems, Jackson County, known as “The Industrial County of Mississippi,” is on its way to adopting a new economic development plan.

The Jackson County Board of Supervisors and the Jackson County Port Authority have agreed to place economic development efforts under the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation (JCEDF).

The foundation’s board is made up of two representatives from the board of supervisors, two from the port commission and two representatives each from the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Previously economic development was under the port authority, which had its funding by the supervisors drastically curtailed in September 1998. In the summer of 2000 the supervisors, four of whom were not on the previous board, held a series of Blue Ribbon Panel town meetings across the county to obtain input on revamping the county’s economic development plan.

Based on the comments received, the economic development committee recommended that the function of economic development was better suited to be handled by the JCEDF rather than the port, which is primarily concentrated on shipping operations.

“While the port is still intricately involved in industrial development, it makes sense to have a more county-wide entity control economic development activities, which include community and business development that is not port-related,” said Connie Moran, Moran Consultants, former director of economic development for the county and a member of the port authority board of commissioners. “The foundation is a non-profit organization which allows support to flow from both the public and private sectors. This reduces the ‘political’ element that has held back progress in Jackson County’s economic development program for so many years. The Blue Ribbon findings also recommended that the entity over economic development should be a non-profit organization.”

Moran, who was part of the team that came up with the economic development recommendations, said she is very pleased with the direction the program is taking.

“Given the scope of work, proposed budget, and commitment from the business and community leaders who now comprise the foundation board of directors, I would say that this should be a most attractive situation for many top economic development professionals,” Moran said. “I am confident that the foundation will attract many qualified candidates for the position of director. I am enthusiastic about the new vitality of Jackson County’s economic development program, and pledge my full support as a port commissioner to promote its success.”

A professional search firm has been hired to find applicants for a new director of economic development. Manley Barton, president of the Board of Supervisors, said he hopes that the applicant list will be narrowed down in a month or so and top candidates interviewed in order to fill the economic development director position.

Barton said the county may not have acted as quickly as some hoped to adopt a new economic development program, but that the result of taking more time to obtain public input into the program will serve the county well in the future. He said they also wanted the new director of economic development to have input into the long-range plan before it is finalized.

Barton believes placing the program under the JCEDF has a number of advantages.

“There will be more support from the private sector,” Barton said. “There are a lot of advantages to the private sector being there at the table. This, I think, is going to allow more people to have a buy-in to the process. We’re hoping we can have a much more comprehensive economic development effort that looks not just at big business and business recruitment, but also at developing the infrastructure that supports the industry that is already here.”

Oliver Latil, senior vice president, Coast Community Bank in Ocean Springs, and one of the Ocean Springs chamber representatives on the JCEDF, said he is enthusiastic about the direction of economic development in the county.

“I think the foundation is the perfect vehicle to manage economic development in Jackson County,” Latil said. “We have received the support of the Board of Supervisors to do that, and that is critical because the board is the funding mechanism. Obviously, with the new supervisors coming in there has been a new emphasis on economic development. Now with this new direction and having the foundation actually manage that process, I think that is a good fresh start. I’m very pleased with the fact everyone is moving in the same direction now. Jackson County has tremendous opportunities.”

Latil said the Blue Ribbon Panel wanted to get the politics out of economic development, which was considered a major weakness of the economic development program in the past.

“The foundation was always really on the sidelines,” Latil said. “We weren’t given the management side. We were trying to assist economic development, but we didn’t have a big say about how the program was run. Now economic development is more of a public-private partnership, and I think you get a broader based input when you do it through a foundation. “

The JCEDF advocates working to help small- and medium-sized support industries rather than just concentrating on attracting large new industries. A small business incubator is being considered.

“We’re looking for existing small businesses to develop into medium and perhaps large companies,” said Craig Joachim, GRI, brokerowner of Harvey & Joachim Reality, LLC in Ocean Springs, and an Ocean Springs chamber representative on JCEDF. “We’d like to see the small- and medium-sized companies work with the large companies like Ingalls, Chevron and International Paper for them to sub out contracts and jobs to local small companies here. We feel everyone could prosper.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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