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Mississippi Economic Council hosts is 60th Annual Meeting at Jackson Convention Complex

College presidents converge on MEC’s birthday bash

Mississippi’s biggest business meeting is about to be interrupted by a College Board meeting.

The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) will hold its 60th Anniversary Celebration and Annual Meeting Thursday at the Jackson Convention Complex amid a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. The interruption, though, is by design.

Thursday was already scheduled for the regular monthly meeting of the College Board. When MEC president Blake Wilson found that out, inspiration struck. The presidents of Mississippi’s eight colleges and universities were already set to appear at the Annual Meeting, so why not, Wilson thought, take it a step further?

“We were going to honor (retiring Ole Miss chancellor Robert) Khayat, and I started talking to his people and they said that was an IHL board meeting that day,” Wilson said. “So, I thought that could open up a wonderful opportunity. I told (interim IHL Commissioner Dr. Aubrey) Lucas, ‘this is a crazy idea, and if you say no, it’s OK. But they’re all going to be at your board meeting. What if you just hold your board meeting at the convention center? We’ll provide you the space, and then they can adjourn the board meeting long enough for the presidents to come and speak then go back into session.’ It was a crazy idea, but it worked out great. (Education) has always a big part of our agenda.”

The College Board routinely holds its monthly meetings at venues other than the IHL headquarters in Jackson. Usually, said IHL spokeswoman Annie Mitchell, it’s at one of the colleges or universities. The Convention Complex is the first meeting at a non-educational site in at least four years, she said. The MEC meeting provided a unique opportunity, though.

“They think it is kind of the perfect set of circumstances to hold their meeting and to meet some of the state’s business leaders,” Mitchell said.

It also provides a set of circumstances for the MEC to provide an update on several of its major educational initiatives. The organization has supported the Mississippi Department of Education’s On the Bus program, aimed at decreasing the state’s high school dropout rate, since its inception. Also Thursday, the state’s Star Student and Star Teacher will be honored. The League of Presidents – the eight leaders from the colleges and universities – will hold a roundtable on the role their institutions can play in the state’s economic future.

“I think it’s good because we have several new presidents, and it will give people a chance to meet them,” Wilson said, referring to Dr. Mark Keenum of Mississippi State, Dr. Donna Oliver of Mississippi Valley State, Dr. George Ross of Alcorn State and Dr. Martha Saunders of Southern Mississippi. All have been named to their posts within the past two years.

With half the institutions having relatively new leaders, Ole Miss is preparing for its venerable chancellor to retire. Khayat was a big part of the MEC’s Blueprint Mississippi initiative earlier this decade. Blueprint Mississippi sought to establish a strategic economic development mission for the state and to improve its legal climate. Khayat’s last official day at Ole Miss is June 30.

“He led that whole (Blueprint Mississippi) effort,” Wilson said. “So, it’s kind of appropriate for us to recognize him from a business perspective. The planets kind of lined up for this whole thing.”

Another Mississippi icon who will have a large role Thursday is Tupelo businessman Jack Reed Sr., who was MEC chairman in 1963. Some of Reed’s speeches over the years have been compiled into a book, “A Time to Speak: Speeches by Jack Reed.”

“If you read that book, a lot of it really is the story of MEC,” Wilson said. “It’s a great thing to have Jack be emblematic of all the past chairs so he’s going to give kind of a tribute to MEC. It’s really very appropriate.”

Keynote speakers for the event are Sen. Thad Cochran and Stuart Varney, a business commentator for Fox News Channel.

Opportunities for Defense Economic Development and Workforce: Now and Tomorrow, the two morning sessions, will feature Mississippi Development Authority executive director Gray Swoope, Mississippi State Board for Community and Junior Colleges president Dr. Eric Clark, Lucas and Mississippi Department of Employment Security executive director Tommye Dale Favre.

As of last Tuesday, Wilson said more than 2,200 people had already registered to attend. This will be the first year the Jackson Convention Complex has hosted the Annual Meeting. The Marriott in Jackson had been the previous site. Logistics made the Convention Complex more feasible, Wilson said.

“We outgrew (the Marriott),” he said. “The Convention Center has given us an opportunity to do our Star Student/Teacher program together with this, along with the On the Bus program.

“It’s going to be the biggest event we’ve had since Richard Nixon spoke in 1973. The value is, the broader group gets to hear about what each other is doing. It’s really a convening of lots of different organizations so it’s kind of cool.”

For tickets and to register for the Annual Meeting, visit www.msmec.com or call (601) 969-0022 or toll-free at 800-748-7626.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@msbusiness.com .

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