NATCHEZ — Few towns in Mississippi receive more international visitors than this town that boasts more antebellum structures than any other city. The new director of economic development for Natchez and Adams County would like to see Natchez also make a big splash in the international business arena.
“Because I have had a tremendous amount of experience in the international area, one of my goals is to let existing businesses be aware of what opportunities there are to sell their products outside of the U.S.,” says Mike Ferdinand, who worked with the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) for eight years as a senior international business consultant before becoming executive director of the Natchez-Adams Economic and Community Development Authority.
Ferdinand, who was part of the MDA team that landed the Nissan plant project in Canton, said he hopes to use the experience gained working for MDA to help Natchez area businesses increase their opportunities.
“I hope to utilize the programs I’ve become familiar with over the years to help grow the export side of business here in Adams County,” Ferdinand said. “A lot of the government programs to encourage exports come from and through the state. With the port here, that opportunity can be tremendous.”
J. Britt Herrin, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development District, says the state’s loss will be Natchez’ gain.
“Mike is a friend of mine and a close colleague,” Herrin said. “He and I have worked on a number of projects. I hate to lose him at the state level, but I respect his professionalism and look forward to working with him. We have a regional partnership, the Southwest Mississippi Partnership, and Natchez is certainly an important part of that. Mark’s coming here will help our region to better focus our regional marketing efforts.”
In addition to focusing on improving export opportunities, Ferdinand also plans to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of economic development. Besides bringing in new industries to create jobs and improve the economy, he plans to focus on helping existing businesses grow.
“The more glamorous side of economic development is bringing in new business, but equally important is maintaining and expanding the businesses you already have,” Ferdinand said. “One of the primary users of state and local economic development programs are existing businesses. I’m also looking to promote entrepreneurial and minority business growth. There are a lot of ongoing efforts in those areas, and what I’m hoping to do is expand already existing programs. I look forward to working with local community leaders, the community college and Alcorn to expand our efforts.”
Ferdinand had lived in Natchez previously, and when the opportunity to return came up, he found it too tempting to refuse. He also thinks it is a time when a lot of economic development possibilities could open up. The four-laning of Highway 84 from Brookhaven to Natchez is nearly complete, and more business opportunities are expected from that.
“That will help reduce the costs of businesses that are here and businesses that are locating here, especially when it comes to transportation,” he said.
Regarding attracting new manufacturers, including possible foreign company manufacturers, Ferdinand said the region’s labor force is a major draw.
“I am very familiar with the region’s labor force,” Ferdinand said. “Working in the international arena, I would pit our labor force against anyone in the world, especially in terms of productivity. Part of my mission is to deliver that message.”
He intends to work closely with site consultants to promote Natchez and Adams County. The advantage of that is site consultants see hundreds of projects per year while single companies are probably involved in only one of two new projects per year. Dealing with site consultants helps give the area more exposure.
Ferdinand doesn’t think it will be difficult to market Natchez and Adams County.
“Natchez is a fabulous location,” he said. “It has a very good quality of life. It is our mission to deliver that message to as many projects as possible.”
Community development will also be a focus. And Ferdinand sees industrial development dovetailing nicely with the region’s strong tourism economy. “Tourism and industrial development go hand in hand,” he said. “You want to bring as many jobs to the region as possible, and diversity the economy. Tourism is critical to the future of Natchez. So are manufacturing, warehouse distribution and commercial development. The more diverse your economic base, the more stable your economy.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.
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