An old Chinese proverb says, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for one day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for the rest of his life.”
That’s the self-help concept that staffers at the Mississippi Development Authority practice when they go into communities around the state and help them develop long-range comprehensive economic development plans.
“A lot of communities will call us and say, ‘Bring us a prospect’ or ‘We need a new industry,’ but we’ve found that many times they haven’t done the very basic things needed to attract the new industries, whether it’s housing, water and sewer, having an industrial park, or something else,” said Sherry Vance, MDA spokesperson. “We don’t just deliver a pound of fish to them, we teach them how to fish so they can continue to provide food.”
MDA helps communities around the state develop long-range economic development programs beginning with a leadership program, Vance said.
“Every community is different in its setup, whether it’s a private economic developer working for the community, the mayor or the city council,” she said. “We teach basic leadership skills to bring government and private officials up to speed about the leadership needed for the fundamental building blocks so that ultimately they can be prepared to attract industries.”
MDA’s Rebuild Mississippi Program works in tandem with the leadership program through community-based partnerships, Vance said.
“The partners agree to work together to upgrade infrastructure and to renovate commercial and multi-family residential buildings,” she said. “It coordinates the existing financial resources of agencies statewide and pools the talents of technical experts to assist business development and expansion in addition to multiple municipal upgrades.”
Vance said MDA’s incubator system is part of the state agency’s long-range plan to help entrepreneurs. Since its inception, the incubator program has helped launch 178 companies for a total of 1,195 employees.
Charles Doty, founder, president and CEO of Lextron Corp. in Jackson, got his start in a business incubator in 1990.
Nine incubation programs serving 11 counties currently exist — Alcorn, Coahoma, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Kemper, Lowndes, Oktibbehea, Tippah, Tishomingo and Warren. They house 110 small businesses employing 615 Mississippians. Next month, three business incubators will open in Lafayette, Panola and Grenada counties. An expansion at the business incubator at Mississippi State University is planned, and one is one the drawing board for Winston County, Vance said.
Several economic development associations around the state have successfully implemented well-established, comprehensive economic development plans.
The Community Development Foundation, a private economic development association in Tupelo, unveiled its five-year plan in May, which includes putting a high-tech infrastructure strategy in place by mid-2002, training at least 1,750 workers in the next five years, implementing a small business development program, marketing the area to targeted industries, increasing industrial park space, re-establishing Leadership Lee County, expanding Council of Governments assistance and assisting existing industries.
The Metro Economic Development Alliance (MEDA), comprised of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, Hinds County Economic Development District, Rankin First Economic Development Authority, Madison County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA) and the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, which functions as the marketing and economic development entity for metro Jackson and serves as the facilitator for companies considering locating or expanding in the metro area, developed a long- range plan from the start.
MEDA’s long-range plan focuses on the automotive, warehouse and distribution, medical and medical-related and metal trades industries, said Jay Hambright, senior vice president of MEDA.
“It’s not static,” he said. “We get together each year to modify the plan.”
The Harrison County Development Commission has had a long-range plan in place since 1989.
“Our 10-year plan constantly moves as we make annual adjustments,” said Michael Olivier, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission. “For instance, right now we’re looking at a plan for 2011. From the 10-year plan, we take our one-year plan and, based on resources and economic circumstances and trend analysis, we are then able to determine what should be done that year based on capacity. “
Chandler Russ, executive vice president of the Brookhaven/Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Foundation, said the organization developed a five-year plan last year, about the same time it kicked off a capital campaign. About $1.5 million was raised for a new industrial park, industrial recruitment, existing business and industry retention and expansion and workforce development.
Charleigh D. Ford Jr., executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Economic Development Association (CLEDA), said the group’s 10-year economic development plan is general, but the short-term plan is very specific.
“Even though we focus on five general areas, including job enhancement and industry recruitment, our number one objective is to work with existing industry and to remain strong and viable and to expand,” Ford said. “Later this year, we’ll take our plans to Plymouth Bluff, get everyone away from everyday distractions and have a spot analysis to see where we are.”
When the Area Development Partnership was officially formed in 1992 in Hattiesburg, organizers initiated a long-term plan. Last year, as part of the association’s $1.75 million capital campaign, in which more than $2 million was raised, a new five-year strategic plan was developed, which addresses economic development, workforce development, education, image enhancement, improving strategic alliances and transportation.
Robert Ingram, executive director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at the University of Southern Mississippi, said, “The more successful economic development associations around the state have implemented very focused, long-range plans.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.