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MEC leveraging tech to help members around state connect

The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) leadership spends a lot of time on the road visiting with business leaders across the state through meetings such as this year’s 22-stop tour, the Campaign for Mississippi’s future. But MEC, the state’s Chamber of Commerce, is also increasingly focused on ways to leverage technology to bring news and programs to members without them ever leaving their office.

“Of significance is the way we are using technology to shrink the miles that separate Mississippi leaders to make is easier for them to come together behind a common agenda,” said Carolyn Shanks, president Entergy Mississippi and current chair of the MEC. “An example is the MEC Web Connect conference calls that give our members around the state the opportunity to hear from state highway commissioners, State Department of Education Superintendent Dr. Hank Bounds and Mississippi Development Authority director Gray Swoope. Also, MEC hosts Legislative Scrambler breakfasts with legislators almost every Wednesday morning that the Legislature is in session. Business leaders around the state can attend if they are in Jackson, or simply dial in to listen from their desks to keep up-to-date on the latest that is going on at the Capitol.”

The next Web Connect Call is planned for December 11 at 2 p.m. with Swoope, who will be leading a discussion titled “Exploring Mississippi’s Economic Progress.” MEC president Blake Wilson will also be a panelist in this hour-long Web call sponsored by Cellular South.

With the Web Connect Calls, participants register ahead of time, and are e-mailed a link. A few minutes before the start of the meeting, participants click on a link that takes them to a portal where they are given a telephone number to call in to link via that portal. Then they are connected and can sit and listen, and watch a PowerPoint presentation. And if the 2 p.m. time isn’t convenient, members can watch and listen to the Web Connect Call later at their convenience.

Plugging in

“When I came here nine years ago, I did 44 small community meetings in six months, and just about killed myself,” Wilson said. “What I heard loud and clear at those meetings is that people didn’t feel they had a connection to what is going on in Jackson. I said, ‘Stick with me, we’re going to be plugging you in.’

“MEC that year changed our mission to be focused on creating a sense of a statewide business community. Our vision is to provide a meaningful voice at the Mississippi Capitol to members without leaving their desk. Every year, we have added some new bell or whistle to reaching the Capitol without leaving your desk. For example, we now have videos up of Hobnob. The day after Hobnob, you can watch all the candidate speeches.”

MEC’s sixth-annual Hobnob Mississippi, an informal gathering of Mississippi business and political leaders, attracted approximately 1,100 participants at the event held November 1.

There are also videos from state business and political leaders discussing Mississippi’s business climate that are up on the Web site, www.msmec.com.

Well received

Using technology to better connect business people from throughout the state has been very well received by the membership.

“From the standpoint of someone who drives a ton of miles a year, this is tremendously beneficial,” Wilson said. “The members love it. We hear very positive comments back, and it provides a great opportunity for someone like Gray Swoope to reach a broad audience of people he otherwise might not be able to hear from. He can share his agenda without a great deal of effort on his part. We did it with the highway commissioners, and it was a huge success. The highway commissioners were apprehensive at first, but after, they said it was very useful. They were able to tell people around the state the status of projects.”

The MEC Web site is updated on nearly a daily basis now, and includes links to recent business news articles, video testimonials by top business leaders, a blog by Wilson, announcements of future meetings with links to registration, the legislative agenda and news and much more.

“We really put a lot on it,” Wilson said. “We are constantly promoting it. It has really been a positive thing for us. We have been up on the Web a number of years. We were among the first in Mississippi to do a very personalized e-newsletter that went out to members, and have since transitioned to directing them through the e-mail newsletter to the ever-changing Web site. The Web site is in essence the newsletter as well.”

Personal connections

As vital as technology is, Wilson said it is still important to get out for honest, face-to-face contact with their members. Meetings are held each year in all the state’s major communities, and smaller communities are visited on a three-year rotation.

This year Campaign for Mississippi’s Future meetings include sharing polling results from the MEC’s Economic State of the State prepared by GodwinGroup. MEC also has a formal process for gathering back input from those who attend meetings.

“We reach several thousand each year by doing this and are able to get some specific feedback on this issue,” Wilson said. “Workforce and education are the big issues coming back loud and clear. The poll shows 40% of businesses say finding quality workers is their number one problem. The second-biggest problem at 5.6% list foreign competition as the number one challenge facing their business.”

MEC had a good year in 2007 with progress on most of their issues in the Legislature. Shanks said in the 2007 session, MEC played a key role, working in concert with Momentum Mississippi volunteer leaders, in pushing for successful passage of improved tourism and film incentives that bring Mississippi up-to-date with surrounding states, as well as successfully pursuing sustainable funding for community colleges and higher education, tourism incentives, stabilization of the insurance market following Hurricane Katrina and many other worthwhile endeavors.

The MEC is now in the process of finalizing its legislative agenda for the 2008 session. Because education and workforce development are the number one issues with members, those will be a priority in the Legislature.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.

About Becky Gillette

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