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CDF hosts annual economic forecast conference, tradeshow

TUPELO — A review of key accomplishments and new initiatives on the regional level — peppered with political observations on the national scene — was the focus of the Community Development Foundation’s (CDF) Northeast Mississippi Economic Forecast Conference January 24 at the BancorpSouth Conference Center.

Event speakers included Mary Werner, chairwoman of the Tupelo-based CDF and owner of Tupelo Manufacturing Company Inc.; John Bradley, Tennessee Valley Authority senior vice president of economic development; and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, whose presentations focused on regional challenges and opportunities. The Weekly Standard’s executive editor and Fox News contributor Fred Barnes gave an overview of the national political scene.

Political scene

Despite changes in the House and Senate, Barnes said that he didn’t anticipate any shift away from the climate of partisanship in Washington, which he indicated was “not particularly productive.”

“So what we’ll see is a lot of gridlock. It’s not good for journalists, but Wall Street loves gridlock,” Barnes quipped.

Looking ahead at the presidential campaign, Barnes discussed issues ranging from candidates’ personal appeal and likability and their perceived political commitment as factors in getting elected. He remarked that he thought that the intensity of the campaign for president was “quite remarkable coming this early.”

While anticipating a general climate of gridlock, Barnes was more optimistic about immigration reform and education reform.

Recurring theme
In a positive vein, cooperation was a recurring theme among speakers addressing regional economic development trends. Werner stated that a critical foundation has been established for further economic development and growth via the establishment of Foreign Trade Zone status in Lee County.

Additionally, Werner cited the opening of the Renasant Center for IDEAs regional business incubator as another major plus in encouraging longer-term development to the area. Marketing of the Wellspring Project megasite in the Blue Springs area also continues as a focus. Speakers also stressed the importance of working together at regional and state levels to enhance economic development initiatives.

Biz to biz

In addition to the conference, CDF officials were also busy with their Business to Business Connection trade show at the BancorpSouth Center. While CDF has been involved with trade shows with an industrial focus, the business emphasis was a first, with a focus on small-to-mid-sized businesses, according to Barbara Smith, CDF vice president of the chamber services division.

Feedback is still being reviewed, attendee and exhibitor evaluations have been very positive, Smith noted.

“We’re still in the process of evaluating, but comments have been excellent so far in terms of the event being worth exhibitors’ time,” she stated. “Many indicated that there was a steady stream of people with many opportunities for one-on-one discussion.”

While exhibitors ranged in focus, Smith said that they included auto, office supplies, communication and media, home improvement, medical, higher education and financial, among others.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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