Earlier this summer, Mark Manning left the Delta Council, where he served as director of development, to take a position with an economic development association in Kentucky. Cliff Brumfield left his role as executive director of the Greenwood-LeFlore-Carroll County Economic Community Foundation to start a business. And after an almost three-year dry spell, the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority has yet to name an executive director.
Is it a coincidence? Or is economic development in the Delta and River Cities of Mississippi a tough business?
“The average life of an economic development director in a particular community is only about four years,” said Robert Ingram, executive director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at the University of Southern Mississippi. “The profession is very competitive and the pay is high. Communities want instant results because of the high investment in personnel and other economic development expenditures.
“Successful developers are often quickly lured away by larger communities and those that can not produce results quickly are forced to leave. Hours are long, the stress levels are high and success is quickly forgotten when times turn bad. It takes a really competitive person to survive in the profession at the local level and knowing when to move on is a big part of being successful.”
Last year, Doug Bacon, former executive director with the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, moved to Charlotte, N.C., where he was hired as vice president of the small business council with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.
“If anything, it would be nice if there were more hours in the day to focus on the recruitment side of development, in addition to everything else the chamber was doing,” Bacon said.
Bacon, Brumfield and Manning said working in the economic development industry was never a problem, agreeing that the overhaul to the state’s economic development policies by state lawmakers last August helped their respective communities compete with neighboring states.
“I loved it,” said Brumfield, president of Performance Tire Center in Greenwood. “I’m just knee deep in an investment opportunity in retail and wanted to get back into real estate, but I loved the job and want to stay close to the EDF and be a strong volunteer.”
Manning, president of the Murray-Calloway Economic Development Corporation, said, “My tenure in the Delta was the best thing I ever did. I got to work with a wide variety of people in all walks of life. It was extremely enjoyable.”
Manning said his decision to leave the Delta had nothing to do with the heavy loss of manufacturing jobs recently.
“The Delta obviously has issues to deal with, but I believe the leadership in the area is doing everything possible with the resources they have available,” Manning said. “Even though I didn’t grow up in the Delta, I will always be close to the region. I have the highest regard for the people there and the organization.”
Manning said the only challenge recruiting business and industry to the Delta was the lack of financial resources.
“That’s difficult to do with a relatively low tax base and pressing financial needs that have to be addressed in order to increase the tax base,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword. But even though the availability of financial resources was certainly an issue, more than anything it was time to professionally and personally grow before I began to stagnate.”
An unidentified source close to the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority said the association was very close to hiring an executive director after nearly three years without one, but an announcement may be several weeks away. Rep. Andrew M. Ketchings (R-Natchez), who serves as NACEDA’s interim director, could not be reached by press time for a comment on this story.
The Delta has been particularly hard hit recently because of the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs. In the last two years, Mississippi has lost about 25,000 manufacturing jobs, including the loss of 6,000 jobs since January. About half of those jobs were in the apparel manufacturing industry, attributed primarily to manufacturing plants
moving operations to Mexico after the NAFTA agreement was signed.
Nationwide, the loss rate of manufacturing jobs is 15%, compared to Mississippi’s loss rate of 20%, according to the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. In June, the state’s jobless rate rose slightly to 5.3%, primarily attributed to those layoffs.
“Even though we had a downturn in the economy, the increased attention on development made the job as executive director less of a chore and more of a pleasure,” Brumfield said.
“From budget items to volunteerism, we got more assistance. Right now is a most exciting time in economic development and I would say the high time of my employment has been over the last year. I’ve started a new premium automotive service center in Greenwood and I’m looking at a few other locations. At one time I was a real estate appraiser and I’m going to get my real estate license again.”
Bacon said the Delta has a “cooperative spirit” that is rare in most communities.
“I loved working in the Delta, especially with people dedicated to seeing the area move forward, but I had another opportunity that was too good to pass up,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.