Gulfport — A Biloxi native, Larry Barnett has taken the helm as executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission (HCDC) after a vacancy in the position since July 2004. He was chosen after a nationwide search.
Barnett, 50, retired after 20 years with Mississippi Power Company with the last 10 years in economic development there. In that role, he worked closely with the six southernmost counties that form the Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development. He will draw on the many contacts he’s made through the years.
“A lot of things will be similar. Both Mississippi Power and the development commission are interested in creating jobs by recruiting new industries and growing the existing ones,” he said. “In this new job, I will also focus on managing the industrial parks and the organization and the future development of parks.”
The University of Southern Mississippi graduate says he accepted the position with HCDC because he’s always enjoyed development and felt he could make a contribution to the local community in that way. “It will be nice being here in my home community trying to make a difference; trying to make it a better place,” he said. “I’m very pleased to have this great challenge.”
He says he’s up to the challenge of HCDC, a challenge that is intensified post Hurricane Katrina. “It provides a lot of opportunity and much more now as a result of the storm,” he said. “We have an opportunity to rebuild the Coast and I’m extremely optimistic about it. We will have a part to play — everyone on the Coast will — in the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild the Coast. Over time the Coast will be more appealing to industry than it was before.”
Even more diversity in the future
Barnett points out that the always-diverse Coast economy will continue to be so, becoming even more attractive in the future. “We’ve always had high-tech businesses and that will continue. We also had a lot of opportunity in metal fabrication and that will continue,” he said. “We were looking at aviation industries before the storm and I want to go back and continue to target those.”
He feels the area has the workforce to support these industries and to develop an aviation-related corridor. Additional and more specific plans will be developed as Barnett settles into his new duties with the county. He concedes that rebuilding downed infrastructure will take time and is crucial to recruiting and growing industry.
“We’re in a state of rebuilding and want to do it the right way,” he added.
Bobby Eleuterius, president of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, said Barnett is the right person to lead the county’s development effort at this important time.
“I’ve known him all his life and have complete confidence in him,” he said. “He’s a good choice and exactly what we need.”
Sue Wright, economic developer from George County who’s worked with Barnett on the Alliance, also had words of praise. “His heart’s there and he has the ability and background to get the job done,” she said. “We will all work together as a region and with the new opportunities after Hurricane Katrina. Harrison County needs his leadership now more than ever.”
Harrison County, Barnett affirms, will continue to be a part of the three-and-a-half-year-old Alliance, noting that the six counties have been working together and the economic developers all know each other. “Regionalism is important to South Mississippi, and we need to promote working across county lines,” he said. “Site consultants look at us as a region.”
Barnett replaces Michael Olivier, who left HCDC to take Louisiana’s top economic development position. Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rocko, who was critical of Olivier’s job performance, said of Barnett, “The accolades he receives on his integrity and honesty are overwhelming.”
No looking back
Asked about past controversy involving the director of HCDC, Barnett answered, “Past is the key word. It’s past. We have to have a good relationship with the commission and the board of supervisors and I intend to have a good one.”
Communication, he believes, is the key to good relationships. “I will keep folks informed,” he said. “That includes the commission, board, business community, local government and media across the board.”
Currently, the office is temporarily housed in what he terms “the office of choice on the Coast — a trailer” in the Bayou
Bernard Industrial Park. Future office needs will be evaluated as time goes on. At this time, the commission has six staff members in addition to Barnett.
“The staff is working very hard to keep things running,” he said. “They’ve been wonderful and have a willingness to keep things going.”
Barnett’s background includes working in Mississippi Power’s marketing department, as an area manager in Hattiesburg and as a national recruiter. Prior to that employment, he worked in Dallas, returning to Mississippi in 1982. He also feels his background in architectural construction has been helpful in economic development and will continue to be with HCDC.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.