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Local economic development efforts in good hands

As I See It

Many of us not directly involved in economic development probably don’t know how the process really works — or even that there is a process.

Media coverage of the Nissan deal in Madison County focused attention on economic development in the state and many Mississippians have been able to see how it works.

There was plenty of flash over Nissan’s coming. The governor and key legislators were involved, and special sessions of the Legislature were held to approve incentive packages to woo Nissan away from neighboring states.

With thousands of jobs at stake, a whirlwind of activity and interest is kicked up. But what about the other economic development projects coming together in communities all over the state?

Little publicity attends the victories of attracting new industries that will provide perhaps 30 or 50 new jobs. However, these announcements are just as important to the people who get those jobs as Nissan is to those who expect to work there.

Leaving it to the pros

Mississippi is fortunate to have a small army of professionals throughout the state whose business is to help improve the economic prospects of their communities.

Economic developers don’t get much recognition for their successes, but they are successful nonetheless. Some are employed directly in economic development by various counties and associations while some work for utility companies who are interested in expanding their industrial customer base. Others work with the more than 60 chambers of commerce in our state. Many, if not most, are members of the Mississippi Economic Development Council.

In order to attract new industry and retain existing industry, attention must be paid to the basics. Suitable land, roads and utilities must be available. A trained, or reasonably trainable, workforce is necessary. The community must be supportive of business and that support reflected through pro-business state and local government. The availability of these things must be made known to prospects located in other states and around the world. Making sure these things are in place and functioning properly is the job of economic development.

Perhaps it sounds easy. It is not.

Making attractive arrangements for buildings and industrial parks requires communities to take a leap of faith since these things usually must be present before a prospect is identified and the selling process begun. That leap of faith means taxing themselves now in hopes of bettering the community in the future.

Federal and state grant funds are often available for communities who can prove that they have a viable plan and the willingness to move the program forward. Developing the plan and getting buy-in from the community requires a fair amount of statesmanship. In addition to a mountain of paperwork, convincing agencies of the feasibility of the plan and then persuading them that this is the deal they should financially support is onerous.

Pat on the back

These activities are carried out every day, and many nights, in communities all over the state. The long-term success of raising the economic bar in Mississippi is dependent in large part on the work of economic development professionals. They deserve our appreciation and support.

Several weeks ago, I attended the summer conference of the Mississippi Economic Development Council on the Coast. I am always infected with the enthusiasm this group has for their profession and this year was no exception.

Unlike many conventions I have attended in past years, the MEDC folks actually go to the meetings and participate in the discussions. This year, subjects varied from community leadership training to the function of the Mississippi World Trade Center to design of a good community Web site.

I was glad to have opportunity to attend the MEDC convention and came away with the secure feeling that the future of economic development in Mississippi is in good hands.

Thought for the Moment —

Enough is better than too much.

— French proverb

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

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