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As I See It

Several weeks ago, I attended the Mississippi Economic Development Council’s (MEDC) annual meeting in Biloxi at the Isle of Capri. This was my first opportunity to attend an MEDC function since the MBJ and MEDC began working together earlier this year.

The MEDC is an association that brings together the economic development and chamber of commerce communities. Several years ago someone noticed that there was lots of similarity between the work of chamber executives and economic development professionals and the two groups united. They, along with state and local government officials, now form the backbone of Mississippi’s thrust to attract new industry into our state and to celebrate the accomplishments of existing businesses.

In a recent meeting of the State Workforce Development Council, J.C.Burns, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, offered some insight on the process of economic development.

According to Burns, when businesses consider a new location, there are four factors that are foremost in their minds.

• The appropriateness of the site and its location.

• The nature of the community and its attitude toward itself and new businesses.

• The adequacy of the labor pool and available training options.

• The incentive package, if any, offered by government bodies.

These factors are potential stumbling blocks, or risk factors to be evaluated. The role of economic developers is to minimize, or eliminate altogether, these potential stumbling blocks.

The role of local economic developers and chamber officials is intricate to the economic development process. By their efforts, the best face is put on the community under consideration, incentive packages are constructed and avenues of worker training exploited. They also work to provide appropriate sites for prospects to consider. Their knowledge of building vacancies, infrastructure availability, building codes, etc. are important to anyone thinking of locating a business here. Along with local government officials, economic development professionals are the movers in creating industrial parks where businesses can locate and benefit from shared facilities and services.

There is yeoman work that goes on behind the scenes and is frequently unrecognized. After the ribbon cutting, everyone more or less returns to their normal routine and the tremendous effort of recruiting the prospect is soon forgotten. On to the next project.

Mississippi’s economic past was pretty much centered on cheap, unskilled labor. The truth of NAFTA is that we cannot compete with other countries in supplying cheap, unskilled labor. Americans will not accept the lower standard of living that is prevalent in lesser-developed countries to the south of us and in Asia. We must break out of the cheap labor mindset if we are to move into the “new economy.”

As we transcend the period in our history where most workers worked on farms into the era of high-tech, high-skill jobs, we are dependent on our local and state economic development professionals to pave the way to the next level. With everyone working together, it is likely that we will achieve the universal economic development goal of raising the per capita income for Mississippi.

On a larger scale, economic improvement for our state is everyone’s responsibility. We portray the pride we have in ourselves and our community in the way we maintain our property and conduct our business. That impression is important to prospects who are considering locating here. Even though we may not be directly involved in “landing” a new business, the way we live has a lot to do with the perception of our community.

From my experience in working with the Mississippi Economic Development Council over the past few months, I am satisfied that our economic future is in good hands.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to our economic development and chamber professionals who tirelessly promote our state to improve the lives of all Mississippians.

Thought for the Moment — Prosperity is a great teacher; adversity is greater. — writer William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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