MERIDIAN — When the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation announced that the theme for its 10th annual meeting would be “Teamwork,” it would have been understandable if the cynics and skeptics had led a chorus of moans with, “Not again.” After all, that was what Wade Jones had expressed when he was persuaded to take the EMBDC presidency almost six years ago.
The presidency had been a revolving door since the two reformations of the Greater Meridian Chamber of Commerce in 1988. The average tenure of Jones’s four predecessors had been three years. The organization desperately needed stability and leadership. When Jones took the job, he said,
“It’s really about the dynamics of working with the business leaders and governmental representatives to benefit every citizen.”
The community had heard that song many times before, but this past December’s EMBDC annual meeting celebrated the fulfillment of the promise. As Marty Davidson, chairman of the organization, said, “The past 12 months have been extremely rewarding for each of us as our outgoing programs and initiatives that laid the groundwork for economic growth have proven effective.”
670 new jobs
In his remarks, Davidson pointed out that $252 million in new investment had come into Meridian and Lauderdale County this year. The result will be 670 new jobs. Four new companies are providing 75% of those new jobs — Tower Automotive, Teikuro Corporation, Clutch Auto and Loblolly Industries. In this era of shrinking manufacturing employment, any economic developer would give off an enthusiastic, “Wow!”
And the three automotive companies had at last appeared to confirm the six-year promise of Interstate 20 being the “automotive corridor.”
Existing industry provided the other 25% of the new jobs, and Davidson, who’s chairman of regional wholesaler Southern Pipe & Supply, was quick to say he’s part of that existing industry group. Donnie Smith is chairman of the EMBDC existing industry committee that met with 40 of the community’s major employers this past year. “As long as I am chairman (of EMBDC), we will continue to stress the importance of our existing industry,” Davidson said.
Education and transportation emphasized
There are other long-range goals in the EMBDC plans that will require more patience, but the 2006 results generate heightened encouragement. To overcome the age-old problem of connecting the local school systems with employers, education committee co-chairmen David Buckner and Lanelle Glover have visited successful programs in several states, including as far away as Ohio. “The final result should make work ethics and technical skills available for our growing economy,” Davidson said.
Meridian is renowned for its strategic transportation and distribution facilities-two interstate highways, three railroads, major trucking terminals and a regional airport.
“Through Fred Hamilton’s transportation committee, we are focusing on logistics and the significant role it plays for existing industry as well as new investment,” Davidson said. “We have engaged the industrial engineering department of Mississippi State University for logistical models and are in dialog with the major rail carriers about establishing an intermodal park.”
The networking opportunities
Davidson also cited the traditional “chamber of commerce” type programs that provide networking opportunities. These include Business Before/After Hours, “The Main Event” (an annual showcase for businesses), Leadership Lauderdale, Meridian Day at the Neshoba County Fair and the always sold-out golf tournament. Davidson urged members to participate in those programs. “I encourage you to look at your marketing plans and see how you can use these chamber programs to strengthen your business,” he said.
Before the session began, there was ample opportunity for that networking. There was a lively crowd of more than 475 in attendance. It was held in the Kahlmus Auditorium of the Meridian Campus of Mississippi State University.