JACKSON — Many may find it hard to believe that Jason Brookins is 37 years old. Full of youthful enthusiasm and drive, he could easily pass for a 20-something.
But, his career seems to fit a man of more advanced years. After all, he has held economic development positions with the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), in Meridian and in Hinds County, where he currently serves as executive director of the Hinds County Economic Development District (HCEDD).
Now, Brookins is preparing to take his skills and background into the private sector. He recently announced his resignation from the HCEDD to become president of Mississippi operations for Rise Development, a residential and community development company based primarily in Denver. However, Brookins’ economic development experience is tailor-made for Rise’s future plans in Mississippi, and Brookins said his role with Rise will allow him to get the same rewards for his work he got in the public sector.
“People ask me, ‘Are you going to miss it?’” Brookins said. “What I loved about economic development was helping people better themselves. At Rise, I will be involved in building homes and creating jobs. That’s more or less what I have been doing in the public sector. So, I’m looking forward to it.”
Right place, right time
Brookins’ rise in economic development can be attributed to two factors — communities continually sought his service and Brookins was ever anxious to meet the call. An “Air Force brat,” Brookins was actually born in Ohio, but counts his hometown as Meridian, where he moved as a first-grader. He subsequently attended Mississippi State University-Meridian, earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
It was then that the economic development field came knocking. Brookins learned from a colleague of the University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM’s) graduate program in economic development. Brookins applied and was promptly accepted.
In 1995, Brookins began his first of two stints with the HCEDD, working under the tutelage of seasoned economic developer Sonny McDonald. “(Sonny) trained me in this business, and helped me understand things they don’t teach you in school,” Brookins said.
Brookins, who is a captain in the Mississippi Air National Guard, would serve until late 1999 as the HCEDD’s assistant director for business development. Brookins left that year to accept the position of regional industry liaison, his territory covering seven counties, with the MDA, where he had previously interned.
It would be a brief stop for Brookins. The economic development and business communities was stunned and saddened by Sonny McDonald’s untimely death in May 2000. The HCEDD contacted Brookins and asked him to return as interim executive director while the search for permanent replacement was conducted.
A first round of searching was closed without finding a suitable candidate. When a second round opened, Brookins was told to put his name in the hat. The HCEDD promptly chose Brookins as its new leader.
Brookins admitted that McDonald left large shoes to fill. But, he had met and passed a stiffer challenge.
“There aren’t many African Americans in economic development, especially executive directors,” Brookins said. However, he added that he has never felt any discrimination from his peers, bosses or clients he has served.
Sense of community
Rise Development now wants to tap into Brookins experience and success as it establishes its presence in Mississippi. Rise is a vertically-integrated development company, and manufactures structural insulated panels (SIPs) for the construction industry.
Thanks to Brookins’ efforts (Brookins was offered the position with Rise after assisting them in site selection as a client of the HCEDD), Rise is looking at two locations in the metro area to establish a SIP manufacturing operation, Brookins estimating total employment at between 50-75 workers. And, he said Rise may add another manufacturing plant in Hattiesburg in the future.
However, Brookins will still be seen around the HCEDD offices through September 30. He has agreed to stay on in a consulting-type role as his replacement is sought. As fortune would have it, that is also the last day of his presidency of the Mississippi Economic Development Council.
“I will miss the relationships I’ve made with my peers,” Brookins said. “Economic developers in Mississippi are very much a family. It’s been very rewarding.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.