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Native son leading Simpson development organization

Magee — At first glance, it may seem that Brad White has disproved the saying “you can’t go home again.” White, whose roots in the area predate Simpson County, was recently named the executive director of the Simpson County Development Foundation.

However, while the position is new and White has never before worked directly in the economic development field, he feels right at home. He has been a member of the board of the Simpson County Development Foundation for approximately eight years now, and has commuted back and forth from his home in the Jupiter community of Simpson County to Jackson to work. So, not only is he highly familiar with Simpson County and its potential for economic growth, he also knows the foundation.

“It’s a great feeling to know that every day my focus is the prosperity of my own home,” White said. “I’ve had people stop, roll down their car window, and yell, ‘We’re so glad you’re back home.’ It’s wonderful.”

Both sides of White’s family trace their roots back to the area even before it was a county. Over many generations, his ancestors have founded hospitals and churches, leaving an indelible mark on the region.

After high school, White went on to Copiah-Lincoln Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi, where earned his degree in political science in 1998. (He is currently enrolled at Belhaven College in Jackson, seeking a degree in management.)

White subsequently went to work for the Mississippi Public Service Commission before working as Dick Hall’s assistant at the Mississippi Transportation Commission. All during this time, White not only served as a board member of the Simpson County Development Foundation, but also on a 12-member team of volunteers that work to bring community and economic development to Simpson County.

When the former leader of the Simpson County Development Foundation, Tim Coursey, left to take a job in Madison County, White helped recruit prospective replacements by touring them around the county.

“Over time, some folks started urging me to take the job myself, but I was hesitant,” he said. “I had never worked in economic development, though I had been involved in that type work when I was in transportation and had served on the foundation board. But as I talked with the prospects for the executive directors position, I began to realize I could do this. So, after a lot of prayer, I took the job.”

White comes on board during heady times for the county. Touting its highway and rail infrastructure, close proximity to Jackson, Hattiesburg and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, higher education (Copiah-Lincoln Community College will begin offering classes in its new Simpson County campus located near Legion Lake on U.S. 49 this fall), healthcare (Magee General Hospital is planning a major building campaign) and other pluses, Simpson County has been successful in luring such companies as Quality Foods in Magee and keeping others such as Polk’s Meat, also in Magee.

The county is looking to add yet more industry. The county is currently looking at land along the Canadian National railroad that crosses the county to site a new industrial park, and bringing new manufacturing and distribution jobs to Simpson County is a large part of future goals and objectives.

White said too many Simpson County residents are doing what he has done for years — commuting to work.

“We have a low unemployment rate (6.5% in January 2005), but approximately 50% of our workforce is driving outside the county to work,” White said.

To help bring those new jobs into the county, White said a primary focus will be on quality of life assets, which the county holds in abundance but perhaps have never been promoted to their fullest extent.

“For example, we need to look at adding more schools to our system,” White said. “Some of our children are forced to travel a long way back and forth to school each day. That’s a quality of life issue, and the county and education leaders need to get together and fix that.

“People love the country-type living Simpson County offers. We have a low unemployment rate and low crime. I can leave my house in Jupiter and within minutes be shopping at Wal-Mart or eating at a restaurant. We have city-type amenities and country-style living. We have to do a better job of promoting Simpson County and our fantastic quality of life.”

One of the things White said the county has going for it is cooperation. Leaders have shown a strong propensity to work together if the cause is for the betterment of the region, White said. With no previous experience in economic development and leading an organization that has only one employee, White is banking on that cohesiveness and support.

White said of his goals and objectives, “I want us to look at the broad scope, to really go after all the components of economic development.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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