JACKSON — J. Stephen Hale is the third executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) under Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, following J.C. Burns and then Robert Rohrlack in that position.
While there might be some concern about changing horses in mid-stream at a challenging time for the economy, Hale said that his key focus will be on continuity of the efforts to improve opportunities for business and industry in the state.
“I think the key in the executive director’s position at this point is continuity,” said Hale, who was mayor of Senatobia for eight years and served as chief of staff at MDA prior to being named executive director recently. “I have worked side-by-side with Bob Rohrlack for the past year. I feel we have done some good things, and we have some momentum.
It is my role to continue that momentum by keeping the relationships we have built and the projects we have in motion.”
Hale points to the positive things accomplished in Mississippi on the economic development front including not just phase one but phase two of Nissan that added the Altima model that increased the auto maker’s investment and the number of jobs created. There have also been significant expansions with Howard Industries in Laurel and with Northrop Grumman on the Gulf Coast. Significant new industries announced have included Future Pipe in Gulfport and American Eurocopter Corp. in Columbus.
Hale said whenever a different personality takes over as executive director, there are some changes.
“My focus has been and my background is in local efforts for economic development,” Hale said. “We will continue to work strongly with local communities to support their economic development. Economic development begins and succeeds on the local level.”
Hale believes Mississippi is well positioned to attract another major auto manufacturing plant to the state, which would also increase spinoff developments by suppliers for the industries.
Recently Southern Business & Development magazine listed the Como site in Panola County as the second best site for an automobile assembly plant in the South. That site lost out for a Toyota factory that went to San Antonio, Texas, and there were some critics who said Gov. Ronnie Musgrove erred in pushing the site near his hometown of Batesville instead of other sites in the state that might have been more attractive.
The SB&D ranking could be seen to vindicate work to promote the Como site.
“It is just an indication of how we recruit,” Hale said. “The companies actually make the call as to their preferred site in our state. The company is the driving force behind the site selection. We show them a number of sites that we have put together. We showed Toyota numerous sites and they selected the Como site. Once a company makes a selection where it would like to be in the state, we move forward with that site and that site only.”
Hale said the Advantage Mississippi Initiative makes Mississippi very competitive with other states.
“It exceeds other state’s strategies,” he said. “We feel we are well positioned to attract future auto assembly plants and suppliers.”
MDA has identified four industry clusters to target for economic development: automobile, forestry products and furniture, communications and technology and polymers, plastics and composites.
Despite the recruitment successes, Mississippi has lost about 80,000 manufacturing jobs in recent years. But certainly the state is not alone in facing pressure from overseas competition that has caused many factories to close. Mississippi is in the mid-range when it comes to loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector.
“Mississippi has lost one out of every nine manufacturing jobs since July 2000,” Hale said. “North Carolina and South Carolina have lost one out of every eight jobs. Alabama, Florida and Georgia have lost one out of every 10 manufacturing jobs. So you can see we have experienced what other states in our region have also seen in regards to our national economy.
“We understand that we have to move forward and attract better paying, quality jobs. And with the Advantage Mississippi Initiative and other programs that have been initiated in this term of office, we feel we are positioned to do that.”
Hale also believes it is important to create public and private partnerships to develop an environment for cooperation and collaboration. Other goals include the improvement of the state’s infrastructure, an increase in new company announcements and better assistance with the expansion of existing businesses.
Hale worked for 16 years managing a family-owned building supply business before entering public service. He served 12 years as an elected official in the City of Senatobia. Under his leadership as mayor, an industrial park was completed and project announcements included Deltona Lighting, Carlisle Syn-Tech, BMW-North America and Hartford Steel Technologies.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.