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Developers gearing up for Momentum Mississippi implementation

Economic developers in the state are gearing up for implementation of something they have worked towards long and hard — the Momentum Mississippi program that expands state incentives to help attract industries such as call centers and other back office operations, research and development facilities and technology intensive facilities.

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) and the Mississippi Economic Development Council (MEDC), the professional association for state economic developers, have teamed up to meet with economic developers across the state to give them preliminary information about the details of what was contained in the landmark Momentum Mississippi legislation.

MEDC executive director Carol Hardwick said the rules and regulations for Momentum Mississippi are currently being written. Hardwick said it is important to keep economic developers in the field up to date about Momentum Mississippi since they are the first contact for businesses interested in locating in Mississippi.

“The economic developers are very pleased with this new legislation,” Hardwick said. “We appreciate the members of the Legislature and Gov. Barbour respectively for passing and signing into law this much needed legislation.”

Hardwick said about 100 economic developers from across the state met early on in Jackson with Momentum Mississippi leaders to help hone the provisions of this legislation to give them something they could use to better do their jobs of helping existing businesses expand and attracting new business to their areas.

“Because of this direct input, they feel they have the tools they need to be more competitive with the other Southern states,” she said.

Terri P. Hudson, deputy director and CFO of MDA, said Momentum Mississippi program guidelines are expected to be filed with the Secretary of State this week.

“We’re required by statute to have program guidelines on file with the Secretary of State’s Office,” Hudson said. “We also have to request money from the bond commission for the program. We have done that, but it takes awhile to sell bonds and get cash. Our goal is to have the program operational and be able to take applications hopefully by December 1, or by the end of the year at the latest.”

Hudson said there has been a great deal of interest in a provision of Momentum Mississippi to provide assistance to existing businesses and industries improving their productivity.

“We’ve never had a lot to offer existing industries in the state,” Hudson said. “This is a good step for having some economic development packages for existing industry. There is a requirement that the funds be for a project to improve the productivity of the business. We have gotten a lot of inquiries on our Existing Industry Productivity Loan Program.”

Momentum Mississippi revamped seven existing incentive programs and created two new incentives. In addition to the existing industry program, legislation also created the Jobs Protection Act designed to assist industries that face job losses due to outsourcing.

Hudson said she also expects to see a fair amount of activity in the Jobs Protection Act portion of Momentum Mississippi which received $12 million in funding for industries “at risk” to lose jobs outside the country due to outsourcing.

Momentum Mississippi grew out of the efforts of many, including members of MEDC and the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), to help improve the state’s competitiveness in attracting new industry while strengthening the existing job’s base.

MEC president Blake A. Wilson said that it is rewarding for MEC members and allies to see something they worked on from the ground up become a reality.

“What is fun about it for me is rarely do you get to take on an issue from start to finish, and see recommendations become reality,” Wilson said. “We started on this back in 2001 after we ran the change the flag campaign, unsuccessfully. I felt we had to find a common agenda, something the entire business community could get behind as key priorities.”

The Blueprint Mississippi effort included public and private sector partners under the leadership of University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat. Approximately $500,000 was raised in private sector funds to conduct research on improving the state’s economic health.

“Blueprint Mississippi was a big undertaking,” Wilson said. “We looked at Mississippi from the outside in and the inside out. We had meetings in eight locations across the state reaching 1,000 business people for their input.

Researchers came up with 50 recommendations in Blueprint Mississippi, and we are working in implementing the priority recommendations first.

“This was not a quick thing. It consumed my life and a lot of other people’s for a long period. There were a lot of groups involved. But it was well worth it, in my opinion. Robert Khayat was the magnificent maestro of this thing.”

Wilson also said a lot of credit goes to Anthony J. Topazi, Momentum’s volunteer chair who is president and CEO of Mississippi Power Company.

“He put in literally hundreds of hours and made this his passion, not just a project,” Wilson said. “As one of the key people involved in the Mercedes recruitment effort in Alabama from his previous experience with Alabama Power, Anthony brought real focus and attention to making certain that the actual incentive package that was drafted was something that was going to address the marketplace. And he helped assure this by integrally involving the Mississippi Economic Development Council and its leading economic developers.

“Blueprint was the overall working strategy, the vision. But the Momentum Mississippi volunteer effort led by Topazi put the meat on the bones, and then developed the tactical process for making certain that from a practical point of view this was the point of the spear for going after projects. What is exciting is that the folks from Blueprint Mississippi remain involved in Momentum Mississippi so that there is continuity from the broad picture to the focused tactical approach of making progress from process.”

Wilson said the recently announced relocation of the headquarters of Omega Protein from Hammond, La., to Moss Point is an example of the kind of projects the state expects to pick up with the new provisions in Momentum Mississippi. Approximately 50 new jobs are expected in Moss Point at the menhaden processing facility that currently employs 240.

“Momentum Mississippi will make a huge difference,” Wilson said. “It won’t be a floodgate situation, but it will be a steady, consistent ability to get projects that we had been losing. It really puts us back on the radar screen. Our incentives were out of date. What this does is moves us to an even playing field, and even a slight edge in some respects with some surrounding states.”

Carolyn Shanks, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi and a member of the Blueprint Mississippi steering committee, said the 21st century is here and a lot of companies in Mississippi are going to have to change the way they do business just to keep their doors open.

“The Momentum Mississippi incentive package is designed to help good companies in good markets continue to grow and prosper here in our state,” Shanks said. “If you have a sound business plan, Momentum Mississippi will mean tax incentives, low interest loans and — in some cases — grant money to assist qualifying small-to-mid-sized companies that need to invest in technology upgrades or introduce new product lines.”

To apply for provisions of the Momentum Mississippi legislation, contact your local economic development organization. For more information, see the Web sites http://www.medc.ms/ and www.msmec.org.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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