At the 2007 winter conference of the Mississippi Economic Development Council (MEDC), held in at the Hilton Hotel and Convention Center in Jackson February 7-9, there wasn’t much buzz about the secret site of the new Toyota auto assembly plant, which would later that month be announced in Northeast Mississippi.
But anticipation of great things to come for Mississippi was an undercurrent of the three-day event dubbed “Tools. Targets. Technology.”
“On all counts, the 2007 winter conference was a tremendous success in that it successfully merged elements of technology, recruitment, targeted marketing and environmental sustainability,” said George Freeland Jr., executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation and MEDC incoming president and conference chair. “All these elements are critical to the success of our communities.”
More than 300 economic developers and chamber of commerce professionals from around the state attended the winter conference, with most of them raving about the speech by Roland Dell, general manager of Chevron’s Pascagoula refinery, as one of the event highlights.
“Roland had everyone spellbound, talking about Mississippi being the best place in the world to do business,” said MEDC executive director Carol Hardwick. “He always encourages Chevron to invest more in Mississippi.”
Christy Knapp, retiree attraction program director and vice president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, said listening to Kell “was such a pleasure.”
“How lucky Mississippi is to have industry leaders like Mr. Kell working in and for the State of Mississippi,” she said.
Kell, the luncheon keynote speaker on February 8, discussed making existing industry a key asset in the recruitment process. “He talked about the importance of cooperation and community between city, county and state governments with local economic developers in order to expand the economic bases of our communities,” said Knapp. “His perspective on the role that business and industry must play in developing our communities was insightful, and the sincerity, loyalty and statesmanship he expressed in training and leading his workforce was truly admirable.”
Joe Geddie, executive director of North Mississippi Industrial Development Association, said the winter conference was his fourth MEDC event to attend “and a very fruitful meeting,” he said. “I don’t usually stay for all the speakers, but this time they were all very good and right on target with information I wanted. It was a great, great meeting.”
A well-attended evening legislative reception kicked off the winter conference, which ended with an Entergy-sponsored general reception in the Hilton Hotel penthouse. In between, MEDC hosted a dozen speakers and various breakout sessions and networking opportunities.
Trudy Fisher, the newly appointed executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), spoke about partnering closely with economic developers on projects instead of viewing the state department as an obstacle to overcome.
“The best advice I can give is to speak early in the process with MDEQ about possible projects and expansions,” she said. “Consider the whole project and don’t concentrate on the need for just one permit that is required. Make sure to communicate often with the experts that we have to guide you through the process. Think about the timing of an announcement of a new project, and work with MDEQ. We’re here to help.”
Other speaker highlights on day two: Lisa Franklin discussed how to use LOIS, Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA) new LocationOne Information System. Pat Werne of MDA facilitated a focus on “Shopping for Retail,” and Chuck Ueltschey, manager of community services for Mississippi Power Company, was facilitator of the chamber session on “Wow! That’s a Great Idea!” Dr. Randall Goldsmith, president and CEO of the Mississippi Technology Alliance, shared with members “Tech-Led Development — Separating the Deals and the Dogs.”
On day three, following an MDA-sponsored networking breakfast, Gov. Haley Barbour talked about rebuilding Mississippi. Jay Moon, president of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, spoke about manufacturing challenges and opportunities, and MDA executive director Gray Swoope discussed understanding when to collaborate and when to compete on economic development projects.
MEDC presented the annual Jimmy and Ray Heidel Economic Development Leadership Award to Jesse Smith, an economic development representative from Mississippi Power Company.
Hardwick was so enthusiastic about the record-setting attendance that she’s optimistic about the numbers for the summer conference, slated for the week between the Choctaw Indian Fair and the Neshoba County Fair at the Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia.
“We’re putting more resources out there for economic developers, making it a priority to keep the Web site updated with economic development news around the state, stressing more training and providing more services,” said Hardwick, who has moved MEDC from a home office operation to a staffed statewide association in just a few years.
“Our people really like networking and learn quite a bit from each other,” said Hardwick. “I was glad to see members staying longer and talking more.”