Picayune — Ron Russell says he made a good move by accepting the leadership of Partners for Pearl River County. He became executive director of this South Mississippi county’s economic development organization in February and hasn’t missed a beat.
Russell, 55, grew up in Sumrall, is a 1971 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and was in the National Guard with some local residents.
“I even have some relatives around here, so it’s old home week,” he said. “We’ve been well accepted here.”
After a career in development, workforce training and the military that took him to four foreign countries, he was looking for an opportunity to return to Mississippi. His wife, Gypsy, a Gulf Coast native, was in full agreement.
Russell earned master’s degrees in human resources development and business administration from Webster University in St. Louis, Mo., and completed numerous military training courses. He completed the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute and the University of Georgia’s Certified Public Manager’s Program. He also attained the certified economic developer status from the International Economic Development Council and is a Certified Economic Development Trainer through the Georgia Department of Technical Education.
Working with the 35 schools of the Georgia Department of Adult and Technical Education as vice president for economic development, Russell feels his training background was effective in helping chambers of commerce and development organizations.
The new development chief feels there’s a real spirit of cooperation here that’s reflected in the name, Partners for Pearl River County. The name change occurred before he took the helm but Russell endorses it.
“Everyone is a partner. It’s a positive thing,” he said. “We’re trying to promote the whole county.”
This county of 56,000 people is growing at a rate of 3% each year with the majority of that growth taking place in the southern one-third of the county. That’s the area that adjoins Louisiana and is a short drive from New Orleans. In adjoining Hancock County, NASA’s Stennis Space Center is a major economic engine of Pearl River County, and 27% of Stennis’ employees call it home.
“Our biggest goal is to get our technology park up and running,” Russell said. “We are trying to attract tenants that will support Stennis Space Center.”
He says it’s the same sort of umbrella strategy that parts of Mississippi near the Canton Nissan Plant are using with the overall plan to recruit subsets of industries with NASA contracts.
The Partners, funded through the county supervisors and Picayune and Poplarville, are also intent on bringing in light manufacturing companies of 50 employees or less, call centers and service-type jobs.
“We are optimistic about the University of Southern Mississippi’s push with plastics, their Innovation and Commercialization Park and the I-59 Technology Corridor,” Russell said. “I think we are starting to come out of the economic doldrums and effects of September 11.”
He feels Pearl River County must be more proactive with its marketing program and, as a member of the Gulf Coast Alliance, is a believer in the regional concept.
“I saw that trend in Georgia and it makes sense,” he said. “We will have more clout working with the alliance. It also keeps counties from being so competitive. There’s no use to fight each other. If Hancock County gets something, we get some benefit from that too.”
Russell says it’s important for the county to play up everything they have. Those assets include a class A railroad, an interstate highway and an international airport within 50 miles. Its elevation, not being in the nearby coastal plain, is another plus for Pearl River County.
Russell lists the Partners’ main focuses as:
• Community unity;
• Strategic planning;
• Leadership development;
• Incentives, regulatory, planning, workforce development;
• Prospect requests, demographic and economic research;
• Business retention.
“We will be working very hard to ensure the economic vitality of Pearl River County,” he affirmed.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.