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MDA eyes $26M appropriation for 2008 budget

The state’s lead agency for economic development, the Mississippi Development Authority, is asking the Legislature to appropriate just over $26 million in its budget for fiscal year 2008, which begins July 1.

MDA director Gray Swoope said the money is about $3.09 million more than the appropriation for fiscal 2007. Since it is an appropriations bill, the Legislature has until the end of the session, April 1, to vote on funding.

“The majority of MDA’s budget is earmarked for enhancing our programs and services to communities around the state. To continue efforts to promote Mississippi as both a business and leisure destination around the globe, we are also seeking funding for image recovery, particularly in light of recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. MDA,” Swoope said.

He said the agency also seeks funds for salary reclassifications and educational benchmarks to ensure “we can recruit and maintain a qualified staff.”

Approximately 270 employees are engaged in providing services to businesses, communities and workers in the state.

Swoope, formerly chief operating officer at MDA, was named by Gov. Haley Barbour to replace former director, Leland Speed, who returned to the private sector. Swoope’s duties as director began January 1. He joined MDA in March 2004.

While the MDA is best known for its efforts to recruit new businesses to the state, it provides services to promote tourism, help communities improve their quality of place, help existing employers identify and meet opportunities and challenges and help workers improve their skills all with the goal of improving the state’s economic well-being and improving the quality of life.

A number of municipalities have benefited from MDA funds over the years including the City of Clinton. “Clinton has had a very good working relationship with MDA,” said Mayor Rosemary Aultman.

She said the city received a $100,000 grant from MDA in late 2006 to help pay for a charrette that will help in encouraging economic development.

“In addition to the grant for the charrette, the most recent involvement was with Mega Plastics, now called Neely Plastics. The city facilitated a CDBG grant for them to install a railroad siding at their location in the Clinton Industrial Park. Being able to off load the product at the plant as opposed to trucking it from a distribution center, saved the company significant money as well as provided for a more efficient operation,” said Aultman.

Aultman noted the MDA also awarded an economic development grant totaling $500,000 to help pay for the roadway between Wal-Mart and Hammett’s Crossing Shopping Center.

Two sewer projects in the city were partially paid for with a Community Development Block Grant from MDA, said Aultman.

MDA is divided into three groups. The one that provides grants to municipalities and counties is the Administration and Financial Services Group, which includes MDA’s Community Services and Financial Resources Divisions. The Community Services Division awards grants to municipalities and counties under the Community Development Block Grant Program. The Financial Resources Division awards grants to municipalities and counties under the Small Municipalities and Limited Population County Program. There are also loan programs available to communities.

Swoope said under the CDBG program, grants may range from $10,000 under the Community Asset Development and Sustainable Planning Program to $750,000 under the Community Self-Help Program. It depends on the specific program.

He noted under the Small Municipalities/Limited Population Grant Program, the maximum grant amount is $150,000.
A few examples of Community Development Block Grant awards include the following:

— $650,000 to Lowndes County, economic development funds through the CDBG program.

— $500,000 to the City of Newton, economic development funds through the CDBG program on behalf of LZB Manufacturing.

— $450,000 to the City of Booneville, economic development funds through the CDBG program on behalf of Heartland Building Products.

Additional information on how the MDA helps businesses is available on the agency’s Web site at www.mississippi.org.

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