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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

Taggart has full plate as interim leader for MTA

On Aug. 26, Madison attorney R. Andrew “Andy” Taggart was tapped to serve as interim president and CEO of the Mississippi Technology Alliance, replacing Dr. Angeline Godwin “Angie” Dvorak, who left earlier in the month to take over as vice president for research at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Taggart earned a law degree from Tulane University after receiving a political science degree at Mississippi College in 1979. He took a leave of absence in the early 1990s from the Jackson law firm Butler Snow O’Mara Stevens and Cannada, PPLC, to serve as chief of staff to Gov. Kirk Fordice, where he was instrumental in the creation of the Mississippi Science and Technology Commission. Taggart has played active roles in the Mississippi Republican Party and U.S. Civil Rights Commission, taught as an adjunct professor at MC, and partnered in a lobbying firm. He recently opened his own law practice in Madison.

The Mississippi Business Journal caught up with Taggart, who was busy preparing for a trial, long enough to ask him about changes at MTA, plans for ITD, his thoughts on the proposed state telecommunications training and conference center, and what the heck a lawyer is doing heading a technology organization.

Mississippi Business Journal: There are so many facets of MTA, can you recap what’s going on and what’s on the radar screen?

Andy Taggart: There surely is a lot going on. In fact, one of the challenges we faced in preparing our Legislative Budget Committee report was deciding what action items of the past year to highlight. The alternative energy project is going full bore. Our technology and business advisors are wearing their cars out calling on entrepreneurs, inventors, academicians and small business people. We have published a top-drawer glossy publication that won a peer group award for its very first issue. Our folks have conducted community focus meetings and local technology cluster training sessions in virtually every part of our state. I have just been wowed with the energy and enthusiasm of the entire organization. And this is only Monday…

MBJ: The Pointe Innovation magazine recently won an award of excellence from the Southern Economic Development Council for its premier issue. Will it continue to be published quarterly in the same format?

AT: This is the publication I just mentioned, and we are so proud of it. The business community in our state has responded very favorably, which we expected, but the award for the premier issue was a very nice, but unexpected, serendipity. It’s a real tribute to Heath Hall and his staff at the Technology Alliance, who went from nowhere to somewhere in creating a brand new publication. It will continue publication in a top-drawer format, but will it remain the same? Does anything remain the same in the technology age? We’ll have to see.

MBJ: ITD, which has been around for so long, has had its ups and downs, but many people don’t realize the significant contributions that it has made, particularly recently. Why so low key, and what’s in the mill?

AT: Well, actually, it’s been around for almost two decades. And, of course, ITD is a completely separate and distinct organization from the Technology Alliance. But, the people of our state would be so proud if they knew more about what is happening down at Stennis Space Center at the Mississippi Institute for Technology Development. We own a patent on one of the finest image sensors being used anywhere in the world, and it has direct, beneficial applications for real life: from precision farming by satellite information in real time, to wound care for physicians, from locating portions of troubled forests, to ophthalmology. And as for what’s in the mill? Well, how about one of our projects at ITD heading to the space station aboard one of the shuttles scheduled for 2004?

MBJ: Despite the bankruptcy filing of WorldCom, the state’s largest telecommunications company and only Fortune 500 company, the CIT cluster has continued to grow and prosper, gaining positive national attention. What’s in the works, and will Harvard professor Michael Porter continue to be involved?

AT: We’ll continue to want to see the involvement of energetic, visionary experts from all over the world, and Dr. Porter is certainly one of those. For the coming year’s conference, the board of CIT.ms has confirmed the attendance of George Gilder as our keynoter. Mr. Gilder is renowned as one of the handful of people in the country who really understands the technology boom of the ‘90s, as well as the unfortunate public policy decisions that led to the contraction of the past three years. I fully expect that CIT and other clusters now being advanced will be the catalysts for great economic opportunity in Mississippi over the next decade.

MBJ: Will you be involved in the state telecommunications commission and what are your thoughts on the progress — the location, size, and its place in Mayor Harvey Johnson’s Farish Street redevelopment plans — of the proposed state telecommunications training and conference center?

AT: I don’t know whether I will be asked to serve in that capacity, and I really don’t know any information other than news stories on the telecom center, so I’m probably not the right person to ask about that.

MBJ: Do you see MTA taking on more partnerships with business groups and statewide associations?

AT: If we don’t, we haven’t done our jobs well. The Technology Alliance is intended to be just that — an alliance. We want lots of allies, and the good thing about our task is that not many thinking people are against the notion of improving our economic climate and enhancing our quality of life through the use of technology tools and ideas. We provide a good mixing pot, but the ingredients to success are in kitchens, garages, universities, laboratories, community colleges, storefronts and factories all over this state.

MBJ: What are the plans for naming a permanent leader?

AT: The boards of both MTA and ITD asked me to serve as interim president and CEO while they conduct their talent search for permanent leadership. Right now, I am in the fact-finding stage of a very steep learning curve, and I have not really spoken with the boards about how they will conduct their search.

MBJ: And finally, no offense intended, what would you say to those who might wonder why a lawyer is heading a telecommunications organization?

AT: No offense taken. I told the boards straight up — although they would have known anyway — that I’m not a techie. But I know a little bit about managing, having been a small factory owner, a little bit about business, since my law practice is made up of business deals and business counseling, and a little bit about state government, having served in the executive branch for almost three years. Maybe it is those skills that led the boards to ask me to help out until they choose a permanent leader. I know one thing … I’m having a ball.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

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