JACKSON — Basketball legend Earvin Johnson Jr. was the “Magic” of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he continues to live up to his nickname through his impressive work in economic development. The 42-year-old has helped transform urban areas in New York, Georgia, Wisconsin and California that were once headed for disaster into thriving economic districts.
Novia Communications and Media Group president and CEO Ben Minnifield and vice president Jacqueline Boykin hope Johnson, the chairman and CEO of Beverly Hills-based Johnson Development Corp., will be the catalyst for new development in inner-city Jackson as well when he visits the city April 19. Johnson will serve as the keynote speaker for The Magic of Health, Wealth & Wisdom empowerment series presented by Novia. Boykin and Minnifield also plan to show Johnson the city during his visit.
Boykin called the “last frontier for American business” the revitalization and redevelopment of inner cities. In Jackson, the expansion of minority businesses is not where it should be, she said.
“They can be great benefactors to Mississippi to rebuild well-being, employment, all those things that go into building a healthy, safe and prosperous community,” Boykin said. “What we’d like to see the Magic event become is a minority business development initiative and strategy for Mississippi because we cannot bear the weight anymore. When we don’t have small businesses being created in all communities, then I think we suffer.”
Boykin said some of the same strategies used in the recruitment of companies like Nissan to Mississippi could be used to develop businesses in the inner city.
“I don’t see enough businesses being developed in the inner city of Jackson,” she said. “The Jackson Medical Mall is a great success story, but we need to reinvent more ideas like it. We have really great pockets of success, but an economic shot in the arm would really mean so much to Jackson.”
Minnifield said Jackson is suffering from “economic suffocation.”
“Because of the white and now some of the black flight that’s taking place in Jackson, Jackson, Miss., is suffocating,” he said. “I would hope that by bringing Johnson in he can share some success stories so this community will be receptive to not only things with his company but to alliances with more minority- owned companies.”
Duane O’Neill, executive director of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, believes that the economic development climate in Jackson is good, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
“There are still many issues that we have to address to make all that potential happen,” O’Neill said. “Not the least of which is making sure that there is ample opportunity for education and workforce development. When we recruit jobs to new companies to put in Jackson, they have to be meaningful and good paying jobs. It’s not a situation where you need jobs alone but to also bring folks into a higher pay scale. To do that we need to have the trained employees that are necessary.”
John Lawrence, president of the Downtown Jackson Partners, also believes the economic development climate in Jackson is good, but agreed that more has to be done to identify opportunities for development in the inner city.
Even so, Lawrence believes people will continue to enter the Jackson market to take advantage of the population there.
“In reality the new development opportunities are in the City of Jackson,” Lawrence said. “I feel really strongly that whether it’s a minority opportunity or not, a small or big business, inner-city areas have been ignored for a long time by the business community. What’s happening all over the country, and what I’m positive will happen here, is all business that focuses on getting the inner-city customer is going to be positive business.”
Boykin and Minnifield believe The Magic of Health, Wealth & Wisdom, which will take place at Mikhail’s Northgate from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., will provide the jumpstart needed for economic development in inner-city Jackson and beyond.
“We’re beginning the relationship in Jackson, but we have an overall view for the whole of Mississippi.” Boykin said. “Agrarian communities now must find another way to survive. Whatever that community can become experts in, we need to help. I don’t want to see a whole lot of dying towns and cities in Mississippi.”
Neither does O’Neill, who said, “Opportunities need to be made available to small and minority business communities, but we need to make sure workforce development takes place in a meaningful way. There’s a lot of work to be done but I think it’s necessary and we feel optimistic that that’s the route we’re going.”
The Magic of Health, Wealth & Wisdom will include information on franchising and empowerment workshops. Participants will also hear from experts on health, business and finance. National motivational speaker Jerrol Sanders will also be present for the series. For ticket or workshop information, call Novia at (601) 981-1655.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com or (601) 364-1042.