JACKSON — A capacity crowd is expected at Mississippi Economic Council’s 52nd annual meeting May 30 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, featuring native Mississippian Frederick W. Smith, founder, CEO, president and chairman of FedEx Corp., as the keynote speaker.
“Fred Smith stands at the top of American business and is a leader in breakthrough thinking,” said MEC president Blake Wilson. “Mississippi is proud of his accomplishments and to call him a fellow Mississippian. FedEx is truly a success story of turning a dream into a reality through hard work, strong commitment and an outstanding product.”
More than 1,000 business leaders from around the state attended MEC’s 2000 annual meeting, held at the same location. “Every year, the crowd gets bigger, and I imagine we’ll sell out early again this year,” Wilson said. “We’re encouraging people to make reservations now because we sold out last year a week beforehand.”
Registration will begin at 8 a.m., followed by panel discussions at 9:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on international trade, small business and high technology. Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who will host a conference on international trade in August and has toured the state with MEC conducting a series of small business conferences, will moderate the small business session. At press time, other moderators had not been confirmed.
The luncheon session will include special remarks from Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Tuck and House Speaker Pro-Tem Robert Clark prior to Smith’s keynote address.
“Blake has had an uncanny ability to attract some of the nation’s top business people to come to speak to the annual meeting, and I think the meeting is getting the reputation of being the place to be on that certain day if you have any interest at all about the direction of where business in the state is going,” said Danny Mitchell, chairman and CEO of The GodwinGroup in Jackson.
At MEC’s annual meeting in 1999, AOL Chief Bob Pittman was the keynote speaker. Last year, it was James L. Barksdale, former director of Netscape, partner of The Barksdale Group and founder of The Barksdale Reading Institute. This year, Barksdale, former executive vice president and COO for Federal Express Corp., will introduce Smith.
“In the last few years, MEC has really upgraded its annual meetings, and we’ve had some tremendous speakers and prominent Mississippians that have been successful outside of our state,” said James Threadgill, southern region president of Tupelo-based BancorpSouth. “It’s always very well attended and we look forward to it. It’s a great event and Blake Wilson’s done a superb job with it. This year’s no exception with Fred Smith being the keynote speaker. I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.”
A native of Marks, Smith attended Yale University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in economics in 1966. From 1966 to 1970, he served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. Smith established FedEx in 1971, and the company began operations on April 17, 1973. Today, FedEx is a $20-billion market leader in transportation, information and logistics solutions, with five major operating companies: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, FedEx Custom Critical and FedEx Trade Networks.
A staunch supporter of regulatory reform, Smith has been an active proponent of global commerce and “open skies agreements” for worldwide aviation. In 1976, he launched an airline deregulation campaign before Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Civil Aeronautics Board to obtain an air-cargo operating certificate for large aircraft. The following year, President Jimmy Carter signed air cargo deregulation into law and passenger airline deregulation soon followed.
“A former Mississippian, Fred Smith brings a global perspective to Mississippi,” said Wilson. “He represents both international and small business. FedEx embodies high tech, which doesn’t have to be about just wires and cables. It’s taking an old fashioned business and applying high tech to it. That’s certainly what happened at FedEx. Ben Franklin came up with the postal service but FedEx came up with a new way of dealing with it. They really fit all three.”
At MEC’s annual meeting last May, Michael Porter, Ph.D., a Harvard University business professor, unveiled results of a feasibility study, showing that elements were already in place to successfully build a telecom and information technology cluster in Mississippi. In the study, more than 300 telecom and information tech-related companies in the state were identified.
The study laid the groundwork for the Governor’s Conference on High Technology, which drew more than 800 participants last November and served as a catalyst for CIT.ms, a newly organized independent trade group led by TeleCorp PSC chairman Billy Mounger that has become a driving force in a concerted effort to transform Mississippi into a high-tech cluster.
“The rollout of the CIT study at last year’s annual meeting was significant,” Wilson said. “It piggy-backed with our meeting so well, and with Jim Barksdale speaking, it was a natural connection. That was really the whole start of the CIT movement now in place here in Mississippi.”
This year, MEC, in partnership with the Godwin Group, will release a state of the state business report that Wilson promises will be “a hot topic.”
“We had already begun the process of listening to business people several years ago to find out what’s important to them so that we could pass that along to the general public,” said Mitchell. “Conducting the survey to compile the report also provided business people an opportunity to give their input on what should be on MEC’s agenda. The results will also allow the business community to get a handle of what’s on the minds of CEOs around the state.”
In March, MEC hosted the Governor’s Conference on International Trade in conjunction with the Mississippi Development Authority, which attracted more than 300 participants, featuring keynote speaker Donald B. Ensenat, former ambassador to Brunei and past chairman of the World Trade Center in New Orleans.
“MEC is not here to run these things. We’re good at being a catalyst,” Wilson said. “If we do wind up with a World Trade Center in Mississippi, it’ll be someone else doing it. Likewise in small business. We’re not the place for direct small business assistance, but we do like to be the outfit that sends people to the right places.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.