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Jackson likely site for center

State anticipates World Trade Center charter

JACKSON — At the annual meeting of the World Trade Association in Seoul, South Korea later this month, members are expected to grant Mississippi’s request for a World Trade Center charter. In anticipation, the Mississippi Development Authority has been making preparations.

“When making an application, we had to give an indication of what we proposed to do and how we propose to do it, so we have been working on this for quite some time,” said Jay Moon, MDA deputy director. “We have already spoken with World Trade Center officials in New York and gone over our scope of work and service. While not pre-approved, our application has been thoroughly reviewed to see that we are in accordance with the way the Association wants a center to operate.”

Although Gulfport was mentioned as a potential site for the state’s proposed World Trade Center, Moon says plans for the center place it in Jackson, possibly in the space formerly utilized by the now-defunct Mississippi Resource Center. Moon says Jackson’s centralized location is more advantageous because the companies in Mississippi that export or are involved in international business are located throughout the state. A second reason concerns the consolidation of services.

“One purpose the World Trade Center would serve is to act as a co-location of a variety of different types of services,” explained Moon. “Some of those services are offered by MDA, so our ability to work very closely with the staff is important. The U.S. Department of Commerce also has an export assistance center in Jackson, so we would be able to cross-coordinate both the federal and state services much more effectively this way.”

Additionally, while the World Trade Center would have a director and a clerical assistant, Moon says MDA would rotate its staff through the center on a regular basis.

Membership in the World Trade Association brings a host of benefits and services, including access to approximately 330 different World Trade Centers in some 90 countries.These centers offer staff assistance, resource libraries, office space for visiting business travelers and myriad other support services.

“It is a world-wide extension of someone’s ability to do business and to have people in other countries that can assist in that regard,” said Moon.

A chief member benefit, adds Moon, is the excellent electronic database of information from other World Trade Centers.

“Mississippi businesses that are exporting and doing business around the world are in a huge number of markets, so this can be an enormous advantage to be able to go to people who are trustworthy and who have good, valuable data sets,” he said.

Moon sees a Mississippi World Trade Center offering a wide variety of services, as well, either solely or in conjunction with other entities already involved in international activities.

“We have universities that are active internationally, as well as organizations and people in the private sector,” said Moon. “The center would work with them to help ensure that relevant information and activities would be provided in a meaningful and constructive way for private sector businesses to use to expand their capabilities in world markets. That’s really the bottom line of what we are trying to do.”

Those in economic development also point out an intangible benefit of operating a World Trade Center-the prestige of Mississippi in the eyes of other international companies.

“Having a World Trade Center will be an excellent opportunity for us to expand our state’s image internationally,” said Will Mayo, director of economic development for Entergy Mississippi. “It would bring the state of Mississippi into focus with the rest of the world, which would begin to look at the state in a somewhat different light. We have already seen the positive things happening in Louisiana on an international basis because of the World Trade Center in New Orleans.”

With all of the benefits, tangible or not, that a World Trade Center could offer, the logical question may be, why hasn’t the state applied for a charter before now?

“There have been discussions about it in the past,” said Moon. “However, a lot of people have to come together and there has to be a lot of organization. In this instance, Gov. (Ronnie) Musgrove felt this was something very important that we needed to move on right now, so he made it a part of his Mississippi Advantage Initiative program. Also, with Nissan’s recent arrival it shows the world that Mississippi is an international player, so the timing was right.”

If the vote on Mississippi’s application for charter goes as anticipated, the next step will be the completion of the state’s operational plan.

“We are trying very hard to move this forward as quickly as we possibly can,” said Moon. “We want to help everybody from the smaller business to the larger business take advantage of global market opportunities. We have to ensure that Mississippi companies feel they have the capability to compete in these markets, and if a World Trade Center can help in that respect, it will have fulfilled a very strong purpose.”

Although May has been nationally designated as World Trade Center month, there is no target date for opening the proposed center.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Mara Hartmann at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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