In a recent meeting with Blake Wallace, executive director of the Hinds County Economic Development Authority, we asked him how he sees the prospects for Hinds in the next decade.
“When we look 10-20 years down the road, we see good things for Hinds County,” he said. “We must continue to do the right things and be patient, because too many people just look for quick fixes these days.”
Born and raised in Smith County, Blake began his career with the Seabees, then worked his way through college to ultimately get his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, and and MBA from Belhaven University. Through the years, he worked in a number of economic development capacities, including the Mississippi Development Authority at its regional office in Hattiesburg, and also serving at the ADP in Hattiesburg. After a short stint in the private sector, he returned to economic development work, and started at the Hinds County agency in 2007.
Although he has a small staff of 5 at the new offices in downtown Jackson, he describes his team as “incredibly competent”, he points to the accomplishments the team has achieved.
“One of the things I’m proudest of is that we developed a comprehensive Strategic Plan,” he said. “It’s hard to undertake a journey without a great plan, and that has made a world of difference to our efforts.”
Among those achievements, he points to over $650 million in new capital investment, accounting for over 2,000 jobs. Key industrial parks have been developed and made ready for “big things”. New business has come to various parts of Jackson and Hinds County.
“And, of course, we truly are the center for health care and government in Mississippi,” he pointed out.
One of his perspectives is to focus on supporting and helping current businesses to succeed and thrive, in addition to working hard to recruit new business.
“We think that is very important, and our efforts have helped to ensure a stable economic base in the county despite some of the challenges Jackson is facing,” he said.
He was candid about Jackson’s challenges, as relates to the economic health of the region.
“Certainly, there have to be improvements in terms of infrastructure, crime reduction, the airport, and other key areas. But a healthy Jackson is one of the keys to a healthy Mississippi,” he said.
As he sees it, one of the important goals is to revitalize downtown Jackson. From his point of view, this means that people have to be “willing and interested in living downtown,” and there must be entrepreneurs who are interested in redevelopment and in converting space to residential use.
“I think the 1 penny tax is certainly going to help in improving Jackson’s infrastructure,” he said. “And the mayor is working hard to bring some unity to the community, and make some of the improvements the city needs to see.”
One of the challenges he pointed out is the fact that the state occupies so much space in downtown Jackson, and that therefore there is no tax revenue on their usage which might otherwise go to infrastructure improvement.
“But we have a strong location, with rail, highway, port, and air access,” he said. “We have many great assets. But once again, we’re not looking at short-term fixes. We have to work for the long term, and I know we can make progress if we do so.”
He points to the area west of Clinton as having great potential. “And in 10 years, we’ll be well on our way with the Lakes project, which will add dimension and appeal. We’ll see more people living downtown, and we’ll have helped to develop some pretty major projects in the county.”
As he sees it, all of these things require teamwork, unity, and hard work.
“But if we can make that happen, then the future of Hinds County down the road is going to be bright,” he said.
You can see a brief video interview with Blake on our website at MSBusiness.com, or on our YouTube channel, mbjournal.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1021.
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