Jackson — When newly-elected Mayor Frank Melton lured former Mississippi Development Authority leader Jimmy Heidel to the post as the city’s new economic development chief, he told him “you’re totally in charge. Revamp it any way you want. Just let me know what’s going on.”
It was exactly what Heidel wanted to hear.
Even before Heidel officially began the post October 3, he was detailing action plans like a football coach readying for The Big Game. His 2006 calendar is already filled with dates around the country for trade shows, conferences and conventions, where he will be using his networking skills to aggressively market the city to prospects.
“I was eager to get started,” he said. “It’s good coming back to the metro area.”
The Mississippi Business Journal asked Heidel, who recently moved into a home on East Northside Drive with his wife, Joanna, about his list of priorities, limitations, regional relationships and how he intends to revamp the department to better market the City of Jackson.
Mississippi Business Journal: You mentioned that you wanted to develop an inventory of available properties in Jackson. How is that process coming along?
Jimmy Heidel: We’re probably about a quarter of the way through. We have a checklist and are going through each property, making sure there are soil borings on a property, for example, or that we have the dimensions of water lines, so it’s going to take a good bit of time to put together.
So far, I have a listing of all my buildings, about 45 or 50, and we’re going to put them all on a detailed Web site. We’re hoping to have everything completed within the next five or six months.
MBJ: Now that you’ve been in place a few weeks, what other strategies and priorities have you identified, and in what order?
JH: Number one, projects that have been here for a while have never gotten off the ground. We’re reworking all of those and as a result, several are going to get off the ground pretty quickly. We need to sit down with some people and go over with them in detail how to finance projects using all the different programs available, like the state bond, façade grant and Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) programs. These programs have never been explained to them in detail.
The second step is to deal with the increased interest people now have in the City of Jackson. The Southern Farm Bureau Classic brought in several investors, and we’re putting together some packages in different areas for them. We’re working on the convention center complex to get it off the ground.
At the next meeting, we’ll take to the City Council a complete Tax Increment Financing (TIF) map of the City of Jackson. The TIF basically allows the city to issue bonds based on the tax revenue projected from those projects. It provides the infrastructure money that will give us a head start on bringing them back up to standard. It takes 60 to 90 days to do it in one area. We’re marking sites in different areas of Jackson within the city limits — for example, Old Jackson Square and the Highway 80 corridor — and we’re going to do one complete TIF for the entire city at once so we’ll have everything set when a developer comes in.
MBJ: Jackson is somewhat limited in what it can do in the way of industrial development, so what types of economic development do you see as compatible for the city?
JH: Jackson has several industrial parks, but they’re on the outer area of the city. One of the biggest potentials we have is developing downtown Jackson through existing buildings and properties, not only with retail but also with office space and housing. For example, we’re looking at a whole section of town that Entergy owns around Hal & Mal’s. We know people in the area are interested in working with developers to rejuvenate downtown with these developments and also the development of open spaces and bike trails.
MBJ: What’s the status of the King Edward Hotel?
JH: We’re taking a fresh approach to the King Edward. We have a grant to do the remediation of environmental problems, which has to be done whether it’s developed or torn down, so we’re not going to lose there. The loan monies that are going to be available are not what was initially projected, as far as the city’s input, so we’re looking at putting in the investors’ money first, and bringing ours in on the tail end.
MBJ: You mentioned that you wanted to contact public leaders in the area to promote metro development. Have you begun that process and what have you encountered?
JH: Jackson’s relationship with the Metro Economic Development Alliance (MEDA) was pretty well nonexistent in the past. Also, the city’s relationship with MDA was not very good. The whole transition plan of the mayor greatly emphasizes a regional approach to economic development in the metro area. And that’s my intent. My relationship with the chamber, MEDA and MDA has been strong for years and years. We’ve already begun working together on projects and I think you’ll see those relationships strengthened a great deal. I’m enthusiastic about the potential for the City of Jackson and bringing together a coordinated effort to make it what it should be.
MBJ: You also said you wanted to make economic development a separate department from the planning department. Is that still the plan?
JH: I don’t want to make it a separate department, but I do want to rename it. I’ve talked to everybody concerned, and they have no problems with it. It’s under the city’s Department of Planning and Development, which is more related to permitting and zoning. We need a point of contact for Corporate America.
MBJ: What size staff do you envision and have you already made hires or reassignments?
JH: There will be some changes in the staff. We don’t have enough emphasis on economic development. We need to address that.
MBJ: How much image-building advertising will the city be able to do with the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau or MEDA?
JH: We want to get the department’s Web page up and running first. We’ll be going to the City Council to ask for more marketing money and produce some publications in-house to market Jackson to prospects. Personally meeting with developers around the country to market the city is going to be the greatest influence we can exert.
MBJ: What attracted you to this position?
JH: To be honest with you, this is the Capital City, and the way Mississippi grows and develops is based in a lot of ways on what happens here. My wife and I prayed about it for a long time, and we kept coming back to, if I could help the city, it’s what I needed to do. I’m really enthusiastic we can do a lot in the city if we all work together.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.