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MEDC honors state’s long-serving economic developers, projects

Being recognized by his peers as a new honorary lifetime member of the Mississippi Economic Development Council (MEDC) humbled Charleigh Ford.

“I’ve been a member of MEDC for a long time, which I think is the cream of the crop in economic development organizations,” says Ford, who helped establish the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link and the East Central Mississippi Economic Council. “For them to honor me in that way was very much appreciated. I was very flattered.”

Robert Ingram, president and CEO of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance in Robertsdale, Ala., who spent three decades in economic development in Mississippi, was also named a lifetime member.

“It’s a wonderful feeling, especially being in the company of the three gentlemen who also were recognized as lifetime members,” admits Ingram. “There are no better economic developers anywhere than Hal, Charleigh and Bill, and being recognized along with them is one of the professional highlights of my career.”

MEDC also honored Bill Barnett, who helped found MEDC and served as its first president, and Hal Walters, executive director of the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, as new lifetime MEDC members July 19 at the Pearl River Resort Convention Center in Philadelphia.

MEDC also honored five community economic development projects from across the state and five companies that were district winners of the Governor’s Cup Award.

“In an effort to honor those who make our communities more competitive, MEDC has chosen to partner with the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) and the Southern Economic Development Council (SEDC) to sponsor the new Community Economic Development Awards (CEDA) to honor communities throughout our state for their efforts to advance their economic viability through economic and community development programs during 2006,” explains Christy Knapp, vice president of community development for MEDC, noting the CEDA program has replaced the traditional Volunteer of the Year program.

CEDA winners

• The Village of Mantee, population 169, for the municipality’s beautification and strategic planning efforts.

• The City of Oxford for its private/public collaboration on The Powerhouse Community Arts Center, which hosts the Oxford Film Festival and other artistic and theatrical events.

• Leake County for its Career-For-A-Day Program, established to encourage students to continue their education and return to their home county to live and work.

• Lauderdale County for Lights on Afterschool, a community program highlighting the importance of after-school programs and encouraging creative development.

• The Pontotoc-Union-Lee (PUL) Alliance for helping land the new Toyota automotive assembly plant. The alliance was birthed through the vision of Three Rivers Planning & Development District to option land and create a certified megasite to attract a major industry to offset the area’s shrinking furniture industry.

“We can all learn from the accomplishments of those who have worked so hard to create programs that enrich and vitalize our communities and state,” says MEDC executive director Carol Hardwick, adding that each community received a $7,500 marketing grant from MDA and a Banjo Moon Glass-commissioned award representing “thinking outside the box.” Later this year, the winning entries will be submitted for consideration in the SEDC’s Community Economic Development Awards.

Governor’s Award district winners

• AL-KO Kober Corporation in Baldwyn. In 2006, the manufacturer, operating in a 65,243-square-foot facility, topped the $5-million mark in total project investment since 1997, while also contributing to the community through various charitable organizations and supplying its 30 employees with a host of above-the-norm benefits.

• Blackburn Motor Company in Vicksburg. The 70-year-old company transformed its operations in 2006 with a $6-million capital improvement project, tearing down Battlefield Mall and building in its place a high-tech complex. Other businesses along the corridor followed suit with improvements.

• Quality Manufacturing Group in Columbia. Named Marion County Business of the Year in 2006, the ever-expanding company has been a catalyst for forming and purchasing other area businesses. Last year, company employees logged more than 82,000 safe working hours.

• Cooper Tire & Rubber Company in Tupelo. Home to 1.6 million square feet of manufacturing space, Lee County’s second-largest manufacturer employs 1,500 employees with a $100-million annual payroll. A $30-million machinery investment last year allowed the company to roll out its 240 millionth tire.

• Cellular South in Jackson. The nation’s largest privately held wireless provider, with more than 850 employees, spent $140 million last year building 231 new cell sites, rolling out high-speed wireless broadband, upgrading back-up power generator systems, building a permanent microwave ring for redundancy in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region, constructing a high-tech operations center in downtown Jackson and beginning construction of a new corporate headquarters in Ridgeland. Partners in numerous projects, Cellular South donated time and money to nearly 100 non-profit and charitable organizations.

2006 Governor’s Cup Award

Quality Manufacturing and Cellular South received the 2006 Governor’s Cup Award for Small Business and Big Business, respectively.

“I’m pleased to recognize the hard work and dedication of this year’s statewide Governor’s Cup Award recipients, along with their contributions to the economic growth of our state,” says Gov. Haley Barbour. “Quality Manufacturing and Cellular South represent the finest in corporate citizenship and deserve to be honored at this level for their stewardship and commitment to Mississippi communities.”

Legislators honored

MEDC also honored two legislators, Sen. Tommy Robertson, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Percy Watson, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, for their leadership role in funding the Toyota and PACCAR projects. Both projects combined will create more than 2,500 permanent jobs and 3,500 construction jobs in the state, and result in nearly $2 million in capital investment.

“This organization understands what it takes to bring these types of complex, mega-projects to fruition, and our members understand and appreciate their leadership in the handling of legislation to promote economic development in Mississippi,” notes Hardwick.

Gray Swoope, executive director and CEO of MDA, points out the legislative leaders’ roles were vital to both projects. “Economic development is a team sport,” he says. “We’re fortunate to have a legislature and legislative leaders like them on Mississippi’s team.”

MEDC event sponsors were Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz; Cellular South; ChamberPlus/MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, Columbus-Lowndes Development Link; CREATE Foundation Inc.; DuPont-DeLisle Plant; East Central Mississippi Economic Council; The Facility Group; Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; Mississippi Technology Alliance; W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company; and, MDA.

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

About Lynne W. Jeter

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