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Commission hopes to select new director in next few weeks

Gulfport — A new executive director should be on board with the Harrison County Development Commission in the next few weeks to fill the position vacated almost a year ago when longtime director Michael Olivier left to take a job in Louisiana.

“Things are working well. Through the consultant, we’ve narrowed the applicants down to a couple of people,” said commission chairman Frank Castiglia. “”We want to ensure that the commission picks the right choice for Harrison County.”

He said the consultant, The Pace Group of Tupelo, worked through the large number of applicants to narrow the field to five top people. The commission interviewed all five, then reduced the list to two people.

“We hope to make an offer in the next few weeks, announce something, and work through the transition to get back on track,” he added.

Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rocko says accountability will be important for the new executive director and that he have no outside consulting business.

“Before there was no policy that the director had to reveal that information,” she said. “We have pushed hard for accountability and feel that from the supervisors’ perspective we are getting along better than ever with the commission.”

She says that’s due in part to the 14 points put into policy for the commission. Those include such factors as accountability of expenditures and a provision to hold companies to their agreements on the number of jobs they will create by a specified date. If the jobs are not created, the company must pay back the amount of tax reduction they received to locate in Harrison County.

“We now have open-door communication with the commission and are kept aware of what’s going on,” she added. “We’re moving forward in a positive way. It took 18 years to get in the shape we were, so it can’t be fixed overnight.”

Understanding how it all works

Rocko said supervisors met with their counterparts in Jackson County to discuss how the public/private development foundation works there. They’re also looking at information from Tupelo and other places.

“We want to make sure our development commission is a shining star,” she said. “Harrison County is a leader in the state for many things and we have an opportunity to lead in this way too.”

Newly appointed commissioner Mark Schloegel says he looks forward to working with the other two coastal counties for a regional approach to economic development. “That seems to be the way to go,” he said. “I also would support changing our organization to a public/private one.”

Schloegel, who works in business development for the Roy Anderson Corp, is one of two new commissioners recently appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour. The other one is Sharon Bentz, who works with Merrill Lynch in Biloxi.

Moving forward

Commissioner Henry “Tut” Kinney led the push for more open policies as soon as he joined the commission last year. The New Orleans attorney who lives in Pass Christian says he wants to see these new policies adopted by the supervisors continue.

“Everybody is working well together,” he said. “We’re moving toward limiting the amount of future sales of property, and we were able to recover a $600,000 building that had been leased for nothing for 10 years.”

Kinney said a new rule will be that no property is leased or sold without a current appraisal. “I think an appraisal is the starting point for any future transactions,” he said.

Other issues and expansions

In other development business, Castiglia said the commission is concerned and working with all interested parties on military base closings and issues. “We’re helping our fellow commissions in Hancock and Jackson counties,” he said.

There have been several expansions in Harrison County recently. Oreck Manufacturing recently completed the facility for a call center in the Long Beach Industrial Park. “They are finishing the parking lot now and should be hiring soon,” Castiglia said. “That means approximately 200 more jobs.”

Seeman’s Composites in the Gulfport Industrial Park is hoping to complete an expansion toward the end of the year that will create 50 new jobs. Gulf Coast Laundry, also in the Gulfport Park, is adding more space and equipment.

“We are also working with the communities and developers on condominium issues,” he said. “The commission has no official position but is working with the various cities within their ordinances.”

He said the commission has not gotten involved with another hot issue on the Gulf Coast, offshore oil and gas drilling. “That’s not to say we won’t in the future, but we haven’t at this time,” he added.

The retirement program continues to be big in Harrison County with several new households moving to the area each month. “It’s a year-round thing,” he said. “Many of the retirees who move here volunteer to be hosts for others who come to look, take phone calls and help any way they can. That keeps the program very active.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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