Tunica — Tradition took a back seat this year as the Mississippi Economic Development Council’s (MEDC’s) 2006 Summer Conference headed for the Mississippi Delta and away from its usual summer home on the Gulf Coast.
With Jackson as the site for the winter conference and the Gulf Coast the usual home for the summer conference, organizers of the event tried a new venue this year due to the after effects of Hurricane Katrina.
The amenities of the Tunica resort area proved to be popular with participants and conference officials as attendance for the event was up over previous years.
Due to damage to the usual Coast venues from Katrina, the MEDC decided to look around and see what other part of the state could hold such an event, said Carol Hardwick, executive director and chief operating officer of MEDC.
“There are very few places around the state outside of Jackson and the Gulf Coast that can meet the requirements we have for our conferences. We looked at Tunica as a possible location, and it has turned out beautifully. We had never held a conference up here,” said Hardwick.
The MEDC serves as a voice for economic and community development as well as for chamber of commerce professionals in the state.
With the dual mission of the MEDC, the conference was set up to reflect that structure with dual track concurrent sessions for both economic developers as well as for chamber of commerce officials.
With a theme of “Navigating into a New Era,” the MEDC decided to use the events following Katrina, which has caused the need for more and improved networking, as the focus of the summer conference.
While many of the participants may have heard of the Tunica area and known about the casino’s economic impact on the area and the state, many had not been to the area to see what it was all about.
Lyn Arnold, president and CEO of the Tunica Chamber of Commerce, was chair of the summer conference committee.
“I was quite pleased with the reaction of people attending the conference. It was great and everything went well. Attendance has been very good, and on level with other conferences,” said Arnold. “Attendance from elected official was also up this year and that was great news,” said Jason Brookins, president of the Hinds County Economic Development District. He also serves as this year’s president of the MEDC’s board of directors.
“The committee did a wonderful job on the conference. And the Tunica area was great for participants because it’s not rushed here and people can just sit back and relax and enjoy themselves. And that they did,” said Brookins.
Marie Shoemake, vice president for chamber development for the MEDC, was also high on Tunica and the conference.
“We had more chamber groups represented this year and that’s wonderful,” said Shoemake who lives in Covington County. “It was an excellent turnout and people said how much they loved the area. I’m thrilled we came here this year for the summer conference.”
It was hard to beat the upbeat nature of Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, who gave the conference a very positive message that “the state is going in the right direction” following Hurricane Katrina.
Because of Hurricane Katrina and the need for entities to work together to make things happen following such a natural disaster, Blake said that “new relationships have been formed, and we have reached out to people we have never reached out to before.”
Keynote speaker Dave Dennis, chairman of the New Orleans Federal Reserve Board and president of Specialty Contractors & Associates Inc. in Gulfport, added a special voice to the conference with his presentation “The Stars are Aligned for Mississippi.”
Dennis set a positive tone for the conference’s theme on networking when he told participants that Hurricane Katrina had also brought opportunities for the state that shouldn’t be missed.
The state was on its way before Katrina, but now the state can turn this situation with Katrina into opportunities to make things even better, he said.
Dennis also focused on the greater need for more “regionalism and partnerships to make things happen.”
“In 30 years going to meetings like this, I have to say that this is the best meeting I have ever attended,” said Jim Pigott, with UBA/Life Insurance Co. of Alabama out of Jackson. “It’s the right place to meet business owners.”
Pigott was also one of the conference’s new sponsors this year.
Bubba Weir, vice president for community service for the Mississippi Technology Alliance, said the conference “had all the right elements. This is the place for business owners to get around the MEDC and network in a positive way. That’s what our organization is doing by piggy-backing with Carol Hardwick and MEDC on getting information out about technology issues in the state.”
Weir also liked the facilities the Tunica area had to offer that “I even brought my family. It’s been good here.”
With a full spectrum of topics for break out sessions, participants could choose between economic development topics of ones focused on chamber professionals.
Session topics covered from “Equity Investing and Job Creation; The Intersection of Wall Street and Main Street” and “10 Networking Tips to Build the Relationships You Want” to “Keys to a Successful Chamber-2006 and Beyond” and “U.S. Energy Forecast/Energy Use in Mississippi.”
The Governor’s Cup Awards were presented by MEDC with cooperation from the governor’s office and the Mississippi Development Authority. Businesses are recognized with such awards for the contributions made during the past calendar year, which raised general awareness about their successful efforts and showcased results from their operations.
Contact MBJ contributing writer David Lush at email@example.com.