By JACK WEATHERLY
Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Brent Chistensen is leaving the post he has held for three years to become president and chief executive of the Greensboro (N.C.) Partnership.
During Christensen’s tenure, more than 17,000 jobs were created and more than $2.43 billion incorporate investment was made, according to an MDA release.
A signal achievement was the recruitment of Japanese commercial tire manufacturer Yokohama Tire Co., which is to open a West Point manufacturing facility in the fall. The project is expect to initially create 500 jobs and generate a $300 million corporate investment. Future expansions could increase employment to 2,000 and the corporate investment to more than $1 billion.
Gov. Phil Bryant said in the release that “Brent worked tirelessly to position Mississippi as an economic leader, supporting existing businesses and recruiting new investment to the state. He had a standout record in Florida, and I knew when we recruited him to Mississippi, we were gaining an economic development professional who could deliver world-class results.”
Christensen, now 45, started his career at the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg after he was business editor for the Hattiesburg American.
He was hired by the MDA when he was president and chief executive from the Gainesville (Fla.) Area Chamber of Commerce, a position he had held 10 years. He also oversaw the operation of the Council for Economic Outreach, which is the chamber’s economic development arm, and the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center, a high-tech business incubator.
Christensen’s pay as MDA director is $230,000. His salary is $183,000 and he receives another $47,000 from the private Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development.
Gov. Phil Bryant, whose salary is $122,160, said in an email to the MBJ of the search for a replacement:
“I don’t have a timetable, and I don’t want to rush this. I certainly have a sense of urgency because we want people to know we are serious about this position. We’re going to be very methodical in our search.
“That may or may not include a national search. There are certainly individuals in Mississippi who can do a good job. We will talk to the business community and to local developers for their feedback on our strengths so we can play to those.”
Joe Max Higgins, president and chief executive of Golden Triangle Development Link, which is based in Columbus, said, “I wish Brent all the luck in the world. I really enjoyed working with him on the Yokohama project and some of the other projects we worked on.”
Christensen will report for the new job by June 1 and agency Chief Administrative Officer Manning McPhillips will assume responsibility for the agency’s daily operations upon Christensen’s departure.
The Greensboro Partnership has been criticized for being passive. The Triad Business Journal reported in December about the search for a person for the top position at the partnership that “a consistent criticism of the Greensboro Partnership . . . is that the group, which is designed to be the central economic development agency for the city waits for the phone to ring . . . .”
The population of Greensboro in 2013 was 279,639. It is the third-largest municipality in North Carolina.
Bryant said in the release that “Mississippi is consistently ranked nationally as one of the top business climates in the country, and I thank Brent for his role in helping us achieve that status. t is no surprise that his success in Mississippi has attracted the attention of other states. As an alumnus of Duke University, he has personal ties to North Carolina, and I know he is excited about this new opportunity.”
Christensen has a bachelor’s degree in economics and public policy studies from Duke and a Master’s of Business Administration degree from the University of South Florida.
Christensen said in the release that “Gov. Bryant and I have worked side by side to position Mississippi as a top location for both business investment and as a tourism destination. He is deeply committed to creating a stronger, more vibrant economy, and I have had the privilege of witnessing it firsthand.”
Information for this article was contributed by Mississippi Business Journal Editor Ross Reily.