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After decade, New South course seeing more non-developers

HATTIESBURG — On Sept. 29-Oct. 4, 2002, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) will offer its New South Economic Development course for the 10th time. This year’s course, which will offer participants training in basic concepts, strategies and methods of economic development in today’s South, will be held at the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center.

With a decade under its belt, it should come as no surprise that many economic development professionals are counted as alumni. (New South accepts 45 enrollees annually.) But the course is also intended for those whose career plans do not include economic development per se.

“It kind of gets you into the economic developer’s shoes. It opens your eyes,” said Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, who took the New South course two years ago. “A one-week course isn’t going to make you an economic developer, but it gives you an understanding of some of the things you have to contend with in economic development.”

Gray Swoope, president of Hattiesburg-based Area Development Partnership (a New South sponsor), said, “We’re supportive of the program because it not only introduces economic development to those interested in it as a profession, but it also gives elected officials and community leaders the opportunity to learn the inner workings and have a better understanding of the industry.”

Dr. Ron Swager, director of the New South course, said he is not surprised that more and more non-economic developer-types are enrolling. The original thought behind the program was to offer entry-level training in the basics of economic development, training experienced developers would find redundant.

“There were much fewer opportunities for economic development training when the course was originally established (not at USM) 30 years ago,” Swager said. “Today, economic developers have a wide range of educational opportunities to choose from. However, entry-level training is much harder to find, thus we have seen more and more elected officials, volunteers, utility and transportation personnel, real estate developers, planners and others enrolling in the program. They come to get a better understanding of the process of attracting industry and developing the economy in the communities they serve.”

New South is one of only 19 basic economic development courses in the U.S. accredited by the International Economic Development Council, according to Swager. (The closest New South course outside of USM is at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of South Florida.)

Under a general theme of the changing face of economic development, the six-day course will include presentations on the changing state of the region; how to plan for strategic change; community development; workforce preparedness; and marketing. Other class topics include research programs, downtown development, destination development, international development, financing, environmental issues, small business development, real estate redevelopment, the Internet as a tool, site selection, business retention and expansion and organizing for economic development.

Some of the specific classes tentatively scheduled include The Changing State of the Region; The Research Program; Downtown Development; Destination Development; International Development; Real Estate Redevelopment; Economic Development.com; Recruiting and Prospect Handling; Small Business Development; Site Selection; and Environmental Issues. Classes are led by professionals such as Mitch Stennett, president of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County, who has taught a New South class every year it has been offered by USM.

“The course is divided into two parts,” said Swager. “The first deals with community preparedness — how to get ready for positive growth. The second part is on economic development promotion.”

The course is sponsored by the Mississippi Development Authority, the Mississippi Economic Development Council, the Southeast Mississippi Economic Development Network, the Area Development Partnership, Louisiana Generating, LLC, Entergy Corporation and Mississippi Power Company.

The course may be taken for credit or non-credit. Application has been made for continuing education units from USM. (Registrants who complete the course qualify for admission to the Economic Development Institute and the IEDC Professional Development series, and earn points toward qualifying for the Certified Economic Developer Examination) Those interested in taking New South for credit must be admitted or readmitted to the university prior to course’s beginning. To register, contact the USM Department of Continuing Education and Distance Learning at (601) 266-4186.

The cost of the course is $550 per non-credit person, which includes instruction and all course materials. Parties taking New South for credit must pay $550 plus $20 per continuing education unit.

Registrations received after Sept. 12, 2002, will be assessed a $50 late registration fee.

The host hotels are the Fairfield Inn and Hawthorn Suites. Both are offering a special nightly rate of $69.

For more information on the New South course, contact Swager or Betty Blackledge, assistant course director, at (601) 266-6519, or e-mail Blackledge at Betty.Blackledge@usm.edu.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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