Nearly 800 people are expected to hobnob under the big top on the grounds of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson on Tuesday, October 26, at Mississippi Economic Council’s (MEC) annual autumn networking event.
Ambassador to Portugal John Palmer will headline MEC’s third-annual Hobnob Mississippi, sharing his Mississippi success story as an entrepreneur, telecommunications pioneer and community leader.
“We’re excited to have John Palmer, one of the state’s most successful business people, at MEC’s most unique event,” said MEC president Blake Wilson.
Palmer began his career in telecommunications with the purchase of a local radio common carrier in 1965. By 1973, he had developed more than nine regional paging companies throughout the South and formed Mobile Communications Corporation of America (MCCA). During his 16-year tenure as chairman and president, MCCA grew to become a major player in the cell phone business.
In 1989, Palmer sold MCCA to BellSouth but retained a business that became known as SkyTel Communications, with operations including a domestic one-way paging and advanced messaging system and Latin American paging services. A leader in advanced wireless messaging, SkyTel deployed the first nationwide two-way wireless messaging network. Palmer served as SkyTel chairman until its sale to WorldCom in 1999. Even during the time that WorldCom filed for and emerged from bankruptcy protection and changed its name to MCI, SkyTel remained — and continues to be — a profitable division of the international telecom corporation.
Palmer, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Mississippi, has served as a private sector advisor to the Secretary of Commerce on the President’s Export Council and as a private sector trade advisor to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. He was a board member for three New York Stock Exchange Companies: AmSouth, Entergy and EastGroup.
Palmer has served as past president of two national trade associations — Cellular Telecommunica-tions Industry Association and Telocator — and as chairman-elect of MEC and a trustee of Millsaps College. Other boards that Palmer has served on include chairman of the National Trustees of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Institute for Technology Development (ITD), Foundation for the Mid-South and president of the University of Mississippi Foundation.
The political lineup
Registration for Hobnob Mississippi will begin at 8 a.m., followed by a roster of political speakers beginning at 8:30 a.m., including Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, Attorney General Jim Hood, Insurance Commissioner George Dale and State Auditor Phil Bryant.
Featured entertainers include nine-year-old Ruby Jane Smith of Columbus with The Taylor Grocery Band and the Fabulous Hobnob Highlighters, also known as Jazz at Sunset with Bob Davidson.
Lunch will include Simmons Farm-Raised Catfish’s fried catfish, Marshall Durbin’s barbecue chicken prepared by the Mississippi State University Poultry Science Department Cooking Team and barbecue pork cooked by the famous Ubon’s Memphis in May prize-winning team from Yazoo City.
Around 1 p.m., the winner of the Carving for Charity Pumpkin Design Contest will be announced, and $500 will be given to the winning company’s favorite charity. “The pumpkin-carving is a fun event, one that people really plan for and enjoy,” said Wilson.
Hobnob Mississippi, an informal social get-together, has swelled in size every year since 2002, when 600 business leaders listened to keynote speaker Marshall Ramsey, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and editorial cartoonist for The Clarion-Ledger.
Some 750 people attended last year’s event, keynoted by Mississippi native Curtis Wilke, former national political reporter for The Boston Globe and author of “Dixie,” a book about Southern politics published by Scribner in 2001. The buzz of the 2003 event was the close gubernatorial race between incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Haley Barbour. (Barbour won with 52% of the vote.)
This year, people will be chatting about the upcoming presidential election, which pits incumbent President George W. Bush against Democratic challenger, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
“With Hobnob coming right before the November election, it’s a natural gathering time for business leaders from across the state to meet and greet one another,” said Wilson. “As an organization, we emphasize the building of a statewide business community.”
Hobnob Mississippi will conclude at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $50 for MEC members and $75 for non-members. MEC is accepting sponsorship applications for levels ranging from $200 for entrepreneurs to $3,000 for corporations until October 18.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.