CHOCTAW — Last year was meet-and-greet. This year, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will get down to business at the second-annual technology forum April 28-29 at the Pearl River Resort, co-sponsored by the Mississippi Technology Alliance.
“The tribe has a long history of success in a wide variety of industries, but we never stop looking for new opportunities,” said Chief Phillip Martin. “We now have about 400 tribal members in college, and 50% of our population is under 21 years old. It will be important for us to provide higher wage, higher skill employment opportunities in order for our next generation to meet their fullest potential. The tribe is no longer just trying to create jobs; we are trying to provide careers. This conference is about building relationships that will help us achieve this goal.”
Last year, the Choctaws made room for more people than expected when venture capitalists, CEOs of startup companies and academia congregated on the reservation. John Hendrix, assistant director of economic development for the tribe, said attendance “exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially for the first time.”
“The forum was an excellent mechanism for getting together constituents that make economic development happen,” said Jim Evans, Ph.D., director of the Mississippi Polymer Institute at the University of Southern Mississippi. “It provided an excellent opportunity to work together for a synergistic result. Dr. (Angie) Dvorak (then CEO of MTA, now vice president of economic development at USM) was very effective in communicating the real critical need for the state of Mississippi to leverage and exploit its high technology development potential.”
This year, registration for the Choctaw Shift-2 Technology Conference, a free event open to the business community, has already surpassed last year’s tally, with commitments from a strong mix of investment bankers, Fortune 500 procurement officers, federal contracting officers, venture capitalists, university researchers, economic developers, corporate attorneys and technology-related groups, said Hendrix.
“This forum is about the future of Mississippi, not just the Choctaw Indians,” said native Mississippian James Barksdale, former Netscape CEO and FedEx executive, partner of The Barksdale Group, founder of The Barksdale Reading Institute and keynote speaker for Tuesday’s luncheon.
“I think people will agree that business is now conducted instantaneously in a global theatre. The traditional relationships between education, government, research and the private sector will not be effective in the future. Chief Martin understands this, and has asked me to discuss the realities of the new economy and what we, as Mississip-pians, need to do in order to be competitive,” he said.
In-depth tours of the tribe’s business operations will kick off the two-day event, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Monday. A golf tournament, a scramble-type format, will begin at noon at the Azaleas course, recently ranked No. 35 in the U.S. by Golf Magazine. The registration deadline was April 14, but a foursome spot will be held for last minute entrants, said Hendrix. (A special conference rate of $62.50 includes a round of golf, cart and a box lunch. A limited number of rooms at the Golden Moon Hotel & Casino and the Silver Start Hotel & Casino are available for $59 per night.)
A networking reception will begin at 6 p.m., followed by dinner, which will feature the signing of a mentor-prot