Jackson — When Mississippi businesses, large and small, contact the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) for assistance on any issue, it’s the Existing Industry and Business Division that fields the call. With only 14 workers, the division provides a vast amount of tools and resources to the Mississippi’s business community to address anything from help with a marketing campaign to dealing with an unsupportive elected official.
“No two calls are the same,” said John Brandon, associate manager of the Existing Industry and Business Division. “We have a wealth of experience and expertise in this division. Some of our people have been longer than 20 years. If we don’t have the answer here, we know where we can find it.”
The division consists of three bureaus — Industry Assistance, Industry Resources and the Expansion and Retention Team. Each, at least in theory, has its own area of responsibility and list of services offered. However, personnel in these bureaus frequently cross their area boundaries, pitching in to find the answer to the issue at hand.
“The staff of the Existing Industry and Business Division takes a lot of pride in what they do,” Brandon said. “Folks in one bureau routinely drop what they are doing to help with an issue in another bureau. We ask, ‘Who’s the best person for this issue?’ We offer a lot of diversity and a deep pool of knowledge.”
Perhaps division staff member Ken Johnston summed it up best. “Whatever it takes, that’s what we do.”
The Industry Assistance Bureau is home to the division’s front-line troops. Whether it’s a small or large business, new or old, retailer or manufacturer, Industry Assistance provides management and specialized services to increase company profitability, jobs and payroll, and foster investment in Mississippi business and industry. It also offers counseling and professional assistance.
About the only thing the bureau does not do is write business plans for companies, but it does direct those needing that service to an entity that can help.
The Entrepreneur’s Tool Kit is one of the bureau’s primary products. The four-book set is available in print on CD and online, and offers step-by-step guides about starting a business, financing in Mississippi, reporting requirements and frequently asked questions.
“The best thing we have going is the Entrepreneur’s Tool Kit,” said the bureau’s Jack Curry. “When you talk about marketing, the kit is the first thing businesses need in order to market properly.”
Half of the Existing Industry and Business Division staff works in the Industry Resources Bureau, and for good reason. The staff produces and maintains extensive resource materials including demographic data, industry reports, Census Bureau statistics and several databases pertaining to industry and industrial resources throughout the state.
The bureau’s Developers Resource Library houses resource information and reports including economic development collateral materials, industry trends, market statistics, business management guides and manufacturing and association directories.
An example is the Mississippi Manufacturers Directory. The publication offers a listing of Mississippi’s manufacturers and allows for cross-referencing. The division once published and sold the manufacturers guide, but has since outsourced it and now only provides the information for the publication.
The bureau also offers Résumé Crossmatch. This service, offered free of charge, matches management and professional-type jobseekers with business and industry, particularly manufacturing. If an entity is looking for, say, an engineer, the program will match prospective employees with the job specifications.
Perhaps the bureau’s best-known product is the Mississippi Market. In its 10th year, Mississippi Market provides a venue for local producers, especially gift-makers, to reach potential buyers. This year, 125 Mississippi businesses exhibited at the tradeshow, which was attended by 1,159 buyers from six states.
Mississippi Market is a unique offering. It is expensive to produce and labor intensive. Brandon said few states offer such a program, but maybe not for long. He said Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee have visited the program to see what it would take to offer a similar event in their states.
Retention and Expansion
The Retention and Expansion Team primarily works with manufacturers on expressed needs and pressing matters. It offers a way to cut through bureaucratic red tape and open lines of communication with state agencies such as the Mississippi Tax Commission and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Working with MDA’s seven regional offices, utilities and local economic developers, the bureau works with the some 3,600 manufacturers statewide utilizing a wealth of resources and tools.
One of those tools is Synchronist, a business assessment tool. A 30- to 45-minute interview is conducted, with the answers entered into an online database. The answers are assessed electronically and give a wealth of information on the company that it can use for future business decisions.
Johnston admitted that Synchronist has taken a little longer to get off the ground than anticipated. The main stumbling block was cost. The MDA obtained a license for Synchronist, and it can be sub-licensed to local economic developers statewide. But many economic development organizations simply did not have the budget. However, Johnston said utility companies have stepped up and offered funding support that ensures local economic development entities will not have to pay more than $1,500 for Synchronist. He believes that should solve the Synchronist funding problem for most organizations.
The three-person Retention and Expansion Team recently conducted a program that brought immediate returns. The bureau embarked on a corporate visitation program in four areas — Chicago, Atlanta, Greater New York City and Alabama.
The purpose was to get face-to-face with the out-of-state parent companies of Mississippi businesses just to see how they were doing and if they needed MDA’s help. The group visited 45 different corporate parents and found 14 expansion projects and three or four others who had issues that could have meant the loss of Mississippi jobs.
“We were very pleased,” Johnston said. “In New York alone, out of 11 calls we identified four expansion projects.”
Both Brandon and Johnston, while they had no hard figures, said activity within the Existing and Industry Bureau during 2005 has been on the increase.
“I don’t have any quantifiable numbers, but we’re busier than heck,” Johnston said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.