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MDA division provides tools to businesses, communities

The Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA’s) Existing Industry and Business Division harbors a storehouse of information for market data research, including community and county profiles and databases for matching résumés with employers, manufacturers with component makers and products with buyers.

“My definition of business is pretty broad,” said associate division manager John Brandon. “A small manufacturing plant fits our jurisdiction, just like a retailer or a service business. We don’t discourage any sector of the business community.”

The division team of a dozen is divided into three groups — one collects data and updates Web site information, another counsels with companies or community groups, and the third helps match employees and employers.

But the division’s biggest showcase is Mississippi Market, held every June at the Mississippi Trade Mart in Jackson. Now in its ninth year, the market consistently draws more than 1,000 people from nine states for one purpose: to buy product from the state’s 100-plus exhibitors, said Brandon.

“Most people think it’s a one-day deal, that we show up and have a party for a little while, but it takes about eight or nine months to get ready,” he said. “About one-fourth of our exhibitors ‘graduate’ to regional shows after exhibiting at Mississippi Market, so every year, we have one-fourth that replaces them and who have never been to a market before. Our purpose is to train those exhibitors through seminars and then one-on-one. We go through their packaging, teach them how to price their product, how to set up a trade show booth, how to sell and how to service the product after the sale. The goal is to get them business they can handle and then to compete with folks worldwide at major markets.”

The typical Mississippi Market exhibitor produces goods for the giftware and food industries, said Brandon.

“It’s targeted as a gift-type show, which would include ornamental plants, metal work and certainly all the gourmet food types, but it also includes aromatherapy products, perfumes and textiles, such as aprons, kitchen towels or children’s wear, and high-end decorative items,” said Brandon, who added that MDA has worked with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce Department’s Make Mine Mississippi program since it was established. “The Make Mine Mississippi program has allowed people who couldn’t afford to go to Mississippi Market to attend through their matching funding component.”

MDA also works with Mississippi Main Street merchants that are struggling to maintain or wanting to expand their businesses, said Brandon. “We make sure they have the right information, and that starts with demographics,” he said.

“MDA makes sure our Web site’s Community Profiles are continually updated so that businesses will know with one click the vital information they need: what kind of jobs are there, who are the big employers in town, what kind of wages are being paid.”

The division also cross-connects component makers with manufacturers “to keep as much Mississippi production in the state as possible,” said Brandon.

The division maintains an inventory online of the state’s available manufacturing facilities with excess capacity and publishes a quarterly newsletter.

“We don’t charge anything to receive it or advertise in our newsletter,” he said. “We allow anyone to advertise who has a need for, or excess capacity of, products or raw materials.”
Using SIC information to classify data, Brandon can pinpoint very specific information. “If you’re opening a new restaurant in Madison, for example, we could run a 25-mile search for anyone who sells paper napkins,” he said. “Or if you’re a Web designer in Starkville who wants to open a business, we can tell you very quickly if the market is saturated with too many other designers.”

Mayors of small towns, especially those without economic development organizations, rely on the division for market data.

“We’re able to get really specific up-to-date information on data such as how much money people spend on shoes, at the doctor’s office or eating out,” said Brandon. “Then that data can be compared to sales tax data. If, for example, restaurants in your community report $1 million in business but my survey says people spend $2 million, we can quickly deduce there’s a gap.”

Last year, about $2 million in federal, state and local contracts was let through another division service, the Mississippi Contract Procurement Center, said industry assistance manager Jack Curry.

“But the best thing we have going is the Entrepreneur’s Tool Kit,” he said. “When you talk about marketing, the kit is the first thing businesses need in order to market properly.”

The kit, available in print, CD or online, includes four booklets: step-by-step guides about starting a business, financing in Mississippi, reporting requirements and frequently asked questions.

Shan Miller, owner of Magnolia Honey Jelly in Woodville, which produces creatively packaged gourmet jellies made with honey instead of sugar, contacted MDA after a customer suggested she consider marketing her product internationally.

“After working with Vickie Watters, MDA’s Canadian trade specialist, on my minority certification, door after door opened,” she said. “John Brandon was very helpful, spending hours with me. I had no idea this service was provided free. They did a fantastic job of helping me put together a business package to take to my banker. Now I’m waiting on the appraiser to build a small commercial kitchen. Then I’ll be prepared to go to the table (with Canadian distributors).”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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