When the MetroJackson Economic Development Alliance (MEDA) was formed in 1994 to market the metro area to site selection consultants worldwide, five entities were involved. Boosted by the success of Nissan North America choosing Canton in 2000 as the site of its new automotive assembly plant, MEDA is now nine members strong and is retooling its marketing image to better attract prime economic development projects.
“Our main focus is to become proactive rather than reactive selling our area to decision-makers,” said Ross Tucker, executive director of MEDA.
MEDA’s original roster included the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, Rankin First Economic Development Authority, Madison County Economic Development Authority and the Hinds County Economic Development District. In 1996, MEDA took a vital step when it contracted an engineering firm to conduct a supersite study for the tri-county area. Nissan Canton now sits on one of those sites.
“We had eight or nine sites, including one in Rankin County that DaimlerChrysler and Hyundai looked at,” said Tucker, who also serves as vice president of economic development for the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce. “They’re not certified, as TVA has done. We haven’t had the full environmental assessments completed, but they’re primed.”
In 2003, the City of Jackson came onboard. Entergy Mississippi joined in 2004, around the same time the U.S. Census Bureau expanded Jackson’s MSA (metropolitan statistical area) to include Copiah and Simpson counties, prompting the Copiah County Economic Development District to join.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture united with MEDA earlier this year to help the alliance expand to the 10 border counties surrounding the nucleus of Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties.
“Progressive Farmer recently selected Rankin County one of the top 10 rural counties in which to live in the U.S.,” Tucker pointed out. “Accolades like that are great marketing tools for the entire region.”
Getting the word out
In 2004, MEDA conducted a perception analysis designed for feedback on the metro area’s image from the national media, C-level corporate executives and site selection consultants.
“We found out that not a lot of folks know about Jackson, mainly the national media and C-level corporate executives,” said Tucker. “We’re not getting our word out like we need to, so we’re doing a PR/marketing editorial placement campaign in 2005, which was just awarded to The Cirlot Agency in Flowood.”
Rick Looser, COO of The Cirlot Agency, said the firm would target MEDA stories on two tracks.
“One target will be premiere business publications as well as the top 100 daily newspapers,” he said. “The other target is a group of highly specialized, industry-specific publications that were chosen with the input of each individual member agency. This approach will allow us to promote the metro area as a whole, while continuing to push the unique story and attributes of each member of the alliance.”
MEDA continues to fine-tune its recruiting prowess. Last year, the alliance consulted with the former head of Michigan’s Bureau of Existing Industry to identify Detroit-area automotive suppliers still shipping to the Southeast that may need to relocate to the Southern automotive corridor, now 13 automakers strong.
“Now that the Southern automotive corridor has taken a western shift to San Antonio, Jackson is in the center,” said Tucker, “and we have an active recruiting list of Northern suppliers.”
Also in 2004, MEDA established a comprehensive Web site with available sites and buildings updated quarterly, and the MSA demographic profile revised as new information becomes available. “A number of site consultants that have done business with us, and others we’ve cold-called, have told us it’s thorough, the meat-and-potatoes of what they need to know,” said Tucker. “It’s a good first introduction to the metro area.”
Exploring new opportunities
This year, MEDA plans to hire a consultant to conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis for recruiting distribution centers. “Memphis has deemed itself the distribution facility of the South,” said Tucker.
“We’re close enough that we can draw some of those same facilities, especially with the existing I-20 corridor, and hopes for expansion with I-35 and I-69 NAFTA superhighways.”
Since joining MEDA four months ago, prospects have doubled for the Copiah County Economic Development District. DG Foods, which supports the poultry industry, is moving into an existing building that is being renovated there, and plans to hire more than 200 people.
“Based on our limited resources, we could not afford a marketing budget that gets our county the kind of visibility we get through our membership in MEDA,” said the district’s executive director Neil Honan. “With our membership, we become a partner in a regional alliance that is so important in today’s economic development strategy.
“The vast majority of businesses looking at a location strategy considers the labor market available to them and will typically look at a 45-minute commute. Therefore, we will get more looks from companies considering Jackson. In addition, our county’s marketing capability will be greatly enhanced with our information being included in proposals and marketing brochures being requested by prospects.”
The metro area has great stories to share regionally and nationally, emphasized Looser.
“Though we have only joined as MEDA’s communications firm in the last few weeks, The Cirlot Agency sees the potential to show the nation that the metro area is a great place to live, work and play, and we are very excited about making this happen,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.