It is certainly a worthy effort to actively recruit new businesses to the state. Companies that choose to relocate or open a plant in Mississippi obviously can have a huge impact (e.g., Nissan). However, it is equally important to foster the growth and success of our existing businesses and budding entrepreneurs. It reminds me of the old Stephen Stills song “Love the One You’re With.”
From an economic growth perspective, there is lot of upside to “loving” our current business and industry. I recently visited with William (Skip) Scaggs and some of his team members who know a lot about this topic. Scaggs serves as the division director of Existing Business and Industry for the Mississippi Development Authority.
A native of Meridian, Scaggs is a graduate Meridian Community College and Stetson University. His first job in economic development was with the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce where he served as manager of existing industry and international business. His experience also includes serving as a trade specialist for the Small Business Development Center at Hinds Community College and a trade finance specialist for the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development (now the MDA). Prior to returning last year to his current role at the MDA, he most recently served as manager of business development at East Mississippi Business Development Corporation in his hometown of Meridian.
One of the exciting projects going on in this division is the creation of The Entrepreneur Center at the MDA. While the MDA has been in the business of promoting entrepreneurship for decades, this new initiative is providing a new programming model to equip entrepreneurs for success. MDA team members Jack Curry, Nerissa Tripp, John Brandon and Will Moody are leading this effort. They are all seasoned business counselors and passionate about their mission. In 2010, the team prepared and won a grant from the Department of Commerce to launch this new initiative. They are in the middle of an innovative pilot program to serve as a catalyst for entrepreneurship and economic development. The pilot program, which launched this year, is in three geographic areas of the state consisting of the 19 counties that have been the hardest hit by job losses.
They have enrolled over 120 entrepreneurs from these areas in an eight-month-long program, which consists of both in person training and webinars. The participants also have the opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs from around the state. In addition, each participant has a coach to help them during the program. The MDA team noted, “We are utilizing new methods of teaching to help train people the way they want to be trained.” The MDA is also providing these participants access to subject matter experts and detailed curriculum and workbooks that will be great tools for success. What particularly impressed me about this initiative is the passion that the MDA team has for Mississippi and its entrepreneurs. They share a fundamental belief in the potential of Mississippians to succeed in this 21st century economy.
We discussed some of the interesting trends and opportunities for Mississippi entrepreneurs. A few of these include participating in the fast-growing creative economy. Mississippi certainly has a great reputation for producing artistic talent so that makes good sense. Other opportunities include agri-tourism and skilled technology businesses. Mississippi has great universities and there are plenty of opportunities for commercial tech transfer. I am encouraged by the activities of The Entrepreneur Center and the seeds that they are planting today for tomorrow’s economic success.
Scaggs is excited about the mission of The Entrepreneur Center and was vocal about the talented people running this program for him as well the other members of his division. I am impressed by Scaggs’ leadership style. Like other great leaders, he is first to credit his team and is not one to take the credit or seek the limelight. He said, “I am most comfortable being behind the scenes equipping my team for success.” He said that he served as manager of the baseball team in college, and that the experience of helping others prepare for success on the baseball field was great training for his later responsibilities as a leader. I look forward to seeing how Scaggs and his team continue to help Mississippians help themselves to make a difference in our collective economic future.