West Point — Less than two months after being named executive director of the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association Board (NMIDA), Joe Geddie had already logged hundreds of miles traversing the region’s 34-county territory.
“It’s a little crazy right now because I hit the ground running, but I’m having a great time,” said Geddie. “I’m excited about the many possibilities to generate business and industry prospects for this region.”
Geddie’s economic development career began in 1979 as an economic development representative with Carolina Power & Light, which became Progress Energy in 2000. Since 1981, he has directed the company’s economic development efforts in South Carolina. His primary focus was to direct recruitment, expansion and retention of economic growth with a concentration on industrial development.
West Point-based NMIDA is comprised of 28 electrical power distributors serving 34 counties in Northeast Mississippi served by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
The Mississippi Business Journal caught up with Geddie long enough to ask him about NMIDA’s mission, industrial trends, first-year priorities and the “high school football syndrome” that often threatens to be an obstacle to regional economic development efforts.
Mississippi Business Journal: Tell us a little about NMIDA and how it works.
Joe Geddie: NMIDA is a non-profit organization which assists and promotes economic development within the area served by its members. Membership in NMIDA is on a voluntary basis with all municipal and electric power association distributors of TVA eligible for participation.
NMIDA was organized in 1951 and was one of the earlier regional organizations created to assist in economic development. For much of its existence, it was one of the most widely known and respected economic development organizations because of its effectiveness and the professionalism of its staff.
NMIDA’s mission is to help increase job opportunities and income levels throughout the Mississippi service area. In accomplishing its mission, the NMIDA staff focuses attention on assisting manufacturing and distribution businesses already located in the area in their efforts to expand. They focus on the attraction of new businesses to the area and assist in the creation of new businesses. They also assist in the expansion or attraction of other types of operations that create jobs and add to increased personal income levels.
MBJ: Why is it so critical for the area that you serve to have a regional economic development organization?
JG: For any area to be successful in today’s economic development arena, you must be part of a regional effort. There’s an old saying in economic development that “you market regionally and sell locally.” In South Carolina, where I have spent the majority of my economic development career, this was difficult for many areas to learn, especially those more rural. Many times we refer to this as the high school football syndrome. Sure, it’s OK for communities to compete on Friday night, but they must understand that everyone in the region wins when they work together on economic development issues.
The NMIDA 34-county area has some key hub city areas, but both the rural and urban areas will prosper from successful regional economic development programs.
MBJ: What are the priorities you have set for the first year on the job?
JG: To be as visible and available as possible to our 34 counties as well as to the Mississippi Development Authority, Appalachian Regional Commission, TVA and all the other allies and economic development professionals that are critical to the success of our organization and to the economic vitality of North Mississippi.
I also intend to develop a plan of work that is inclusive to what these people, and especially my members and counties, tell me they want from NMIDA as I meet with them, one that proves NMIDA’s value to its members and any prospective members.
NMIDA must utilize its board and improve the leadership and communication across the entire region. And of course, we will not forget — and we intend to focus more than ever — on our primary purpose of generating business and industry prospects for the region.
MBJ: How has your experience in the Carolinas prepared you for the challenges here?
JG: The Carolinas are very similar to Mississippi. There is a push there for regionalism and for jobs to replace the thousands of textile jobs that have been lost, similar to what has occurred here in Mississippi. There is also a high need for workforce development and there are also many small communities that need assistance in keeping the one plant they have from being consolidated elsewhere.
The incentives offered by the Carolinas are very similar to Mississippi, at least as I have studied thus far. There is also the need for the people in both locations to realize many of the jobs that have been lost aren’t coming back. Both states must learn to attract different types of jobs and make sure their people are trained for those jobs.
MBJ: What do you see as the leading potential industrial opportunities available in your service area?
JG: Automotive, aerospace, metalworking, wood products and food processing. We must take advantage of what has occurred in the southern portion of our region, especially with the steel and aerospace industries. There are several potential megasites being evaluated for development, which hopefully will be attractive to a large automotive plant and the countless suppliers it could bring. Of course, we should continue to develop our wood products and food processing industries as well.
MBJ: With manufacturing taking a hit around the Deep South, in which direction do we need to move for further economic development and how is North Mississippi positioned to meet the challenge?
JG: We must utilize all the programs made available for our benefit in North Mississippi such as the recently passed Momentum Mississippi legislation, TVA’s expanded economic development programs, local leadership and a renewed emphasis on job creation and growth at NMIDA. We must do all we can to make sure our quality of life is attractive to outsiders. That means our education system lacks for nothing and our existing workforce receives the opportunity it needs to be employable by the industries of the 21st century, such as the emerging clusters of aerospace and metalworking, automotive, et cetera. North Mississippi is well positioned with both Ole Miss and Mississippi State University in its area, as well as some excellent community colleges and public schools. Our communities must continue to improve on an individual basis and not quit thinking regionally. They must understand as the region goes, so do they. North Mississippi is positioned with developing megasites and our counties have excellent local professionals as well as leadership.
The most important factor in the economic development process is leadership, and North Mississippi is positioned well in that regard. But we must never stop developing our leadership for the future.
NMIDA is one entity of an economic development team in Mississippi. No single person or organization has ever located a plant alone. We must strive to work with all pertinent economic development organizations and come together as an almost seamless entity that does whatever is necessary to make not only our North Mississippi region successful, but also the entire state, in the growth of jobs and investment. When you do not care who gets the credit for the rewards after all the work has been done, it is amazing what can be accomplished.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.