Kim Compton didn’t just fall into economic development on her way to or from another career. She chose it. After completing a degree in economics from Millsaps College in 1990, she entered the master’s program in economic development at the University of Southern Mississippi. Now she serves as director of economic development with the Hancock County Development Commission, a position she’s held since 2010.
“A career in economic development is a perfect combination of analytical work and relationship work,” she says. “I get to work on a project from beginning to end and build relationships with our clients.”
The economic function in Hancock County falls under the Hancock County Ports and Harbors Commission but is now doing business as the Hancock County Development Commission, Compton explains. “Port and Harbor doesn’t capture all that we do,” she said. “We own and operate the Stennis International Airport and Airpark, own and operate the Port Bienville Industrial Park and Port Bienville Railroad and serve as the economic development agency for the entire county.”
A certified economic developer, Compton has worked with the Harrison County Development Commission, City of Gulfport, Resource Center at the University of Southern Mississippi and was research director for Louisiana’s Department of Economic Development. With the exception of two years at the Planning and Development District in Central Mississippi, her entire career has been in the public sector of economic development.
As a student at University of Southern Mississippi, she was awarded the Munro Petroleum Award for Excellence. She also received a fellowship from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service while pursuing her Ph.D. in economics at Clemson University.
“I’ve seen some changes in my 20-plus years in this field,” she said. “The profession is becoming more technical and quantitative. Gathering and analyzing data is a daily activity, as is evaluating the economic impact of projects to determine an appropriate level of public investment.”
Compton hopes to be able to go public with a couple of very large projects in Hancock County before the end of the year. However, she has observed that companies have been more cautious and conservative during the recession. “As the economic situation improves, we are encouraged that we are getting a lot of ‘looks,’” she added. “I believe in what I do and that the work our agency does makes a difference in the economic strength of the county.”
During her career, Compton was involved with the development of the Biloxi Commerce Park, the land pricing formula that is utilized by economic development organizations throughout the state, the selection of the site for the Rolls Royce expansion and the grant award for the Lazy Magnolia Brewery expansion.
One important thing she’s learned along the way is to be honest up front, no matter what the answer is. “Businesses need realistic expectations to allow for sound decision making,” she said. “It’s easy to ‘oversell’ incentives and amenities, but that strategy never works out in the end.”
She was reared in Biloxi and is a product of the Biloxi Public School System. These days she feels fortunate to live within a half-mile from her only sibling and five miles from her parents. “My best friend of almost 30 years also lives here, and I see my family every day,” she said. “We truly enjoy each other’s company.”
When she’s not working, Compton spends time walking, running, painting and reading, which she calls her addiction.