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MEC expects packed house for May 2 meet

Planes, trains and automobiles will take center stage when the Mississippi Economic Council hosts its 58th-annual meeting May 2 at the Jackson Marriott in downtown Jackson.

Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman, who grew up in Hattiesburg and was named to the top leadership spot of the Norfolk, Va.-based railroad company in 2005, will keynote the annual luncheon. His company operates 21,000 railway route miles in 22 eastern and southern states, including Mississippi, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada, and connects with rail ports in the West and throughout Canada. The company, which posted $9.4 billion in railway operating revenues last year, employs 30,000.

“We’re really focusing on the new opportunities in Mississippi,” said Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) president Blake Wilson. “There are so many the new auto plant brings. We’ll hear about what’s going on in the rail industry from one of the more successful CEOs of an American railroad. This is a chance to continue our framework of bringing home successful Mississippians.”

Moorman, a Blair High School graduate whose late father, Charles Moorman, PhD, was a distinguished professor of English literature at the University of Southern Mississippi, follows a list of impressive native Mississippi speakers for the annual event, including:

• Clarence Otis, Jr., CEO of Darden Restaurants Inc., (NYSE: DRI) the world’s largest casual dining restaurant company, parent company of Red Lobster and Olive Garden;

• John H. Bryan, retired 25-year chairman and CEO of the Sara Lee Corporation (NYSE: SLE);

• W.G. “Mickey” Holliman Jr., chairman, president and CEO of Furniture Brands International (NYSE: FBN), the largest manufacturer of residential furniture in the world, including Broyhill, Lane and Thomasville brands;

• FedEx founder and CEO Frederick W. Smith (NYSE: FDX);

• Former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale;

• Former AOL Time Warner executive Bob Pittman; and

• World renowned talent scout Sam Haskell III, producer of the biannual Stars Over Mississippi benefit concerts held in Amory the first Saturday in October, also known as “TV’s Talent Man” from the William Morris Agency.

Toyota associate Dennis Cuneo, who led the site selection of the Japanese automaker’s Wellspring location, will also address the expected 1,000 attendees. In 2006, Minority Business News USA magazine named him one of the “Top 100 Men Impacting Supplier Diversity.”

“Dennis is now a lawyer with Arent Fox, but he’s the retired senior vice president of Toyota and still the consultant that helped make this project happen,” Wilson pointed out. “We’ll hear what some of his reasons were for selecting Mississippi.”

Official perspectives

Gov. Haley Barbour will also play a prominent role in the MEC annual meeting. “He’ll show us that if you continue to do the right things, good things will happen in economic development and provide continued opportunities to move forward,” explained Wilson. “The governor will give a good overview for the future. Transportation is one of those economic development keys — always has been —and Mississippi is a leader in that arena. We’ll take a look at the next level beyond highways.”

Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and Secretary of State Eric Clark, two retiring state officials, will share their viewpoints about what lies ahead for Mississippi.

Getting started

Registration for the annual meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m., with a morning session discussing intermodal opportunities to better plan for the state’s transpotation future beginning at 9:15 a.m., and a second morning session discussing making economic development work through regional partnerships beginning at 10:15 a.m. The luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. and includes MEC’s traditional tribute to the military, plus entertainment by Miss Mississippi Taryn Foshee and “First Choice” of Mississippi Valley State University.

“I really credit our staff and leadership with the success of the annual meeting,” said Wilson, who has led the event to its eighth consecutive packed house. “We try to make it an informative and fun event and also one that really cheerleads for the future of Mississippi. It’s a chance for both celebration and aspiration.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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