By JACK WEATHERLY & TED CARTER
Gov. Phil Bryant says he didn’t need to look outside of the state to seek his next executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority.
He selected Glenn L. McCullough Jr. of Tupelo, who did a lot of work for his home state when he was running the Tennessee Valley Authority.
In fact, Tupelo was the first city to buy power from the TVA, back in 1934, McCullough recounted in a telephone interview this week.
The federal agency initially known for electrification of the Tennessee Valley — and now serves parts of seven states, including Mississippi — during the depths of the Great Depression, was as much an economic development engine as anything, McCullough said.
“The TVA was founded in 1933 as an economic development experiment. Sen. George Norris of Nebraska went to President Roosevelt and said let’s see if we can harness a river that is out of control and generate low-cost electric power for a depressed region,” said McCullough, who was chairman of the agency from 2001 till 2005. He lost in a Republican runoff in 2008 for the U.S. House of Representatives’ 1st Congressional District.
During his tenure as chairman, the position was de facto chief executive officer, a full-time job, he said, adding that he had offices in Tupelo; Knoxville, the official headquarters; Chattanooga; Nashville and Washington, D.C.
“Power was the fuel to diversify the economy” of an agrarian area whose soil had been depleted through generations of unenlightened farming practices, McCullough said.
McCullough said that the TVA job, which was confirmed by the U.S. Senate after President W. Bush tapped him following initial appointment to the board by President Bill Clinton, was good training for the MDA job.
“I’m going to give you a glimpse into the playbook,” he said. “We’re going to win with people, process and performance. It worked at TVA, it worked at city hall in the short time I was there [as mayor of Tupelo] before the TVA call. And it’s working at the MDA, but obviously we always want to get better.”
He praised the work of the departing Brent Christensen, who will leave June 1 to become head of the Greensboro, N.C. economic development organization. McCullough will report for work in Jackson on June 8.
Meantime, he said he has severed ties with Ardillo, McCullough and Taggart LLC, a Tupelo-based consultancy whose contract with MDA will expire on June 5.
During McCullough’s tenure at TVA, it developed its megasite program and in Mississippi worked with local economic development organizations and the MDA to land the Severstal steel plant, now known as Steel Dynamics, the Toyota assembly plant in Blue Springs and others.
As mayor of Tupelo from 1997 till 1999, when Clinton picked him for the TVA board, he realized that local elected officials are on the front line of economic development, and they, as much as anyone, appreciate the team approach that reaches from the county and city level to the regional, state level and beyond.
Speaking to luncheon guests at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual meeting on April 30, Bryant said he kept the search within the state to prevent the top MDA job from becoming a revolving door.
He selected McCullough, an economic development pro Bryant believes will stay put.
“He’s not looking for the next big thing,” Bryant said of the 60-year-old McCullough.
McCullough will receive the same salary as Christensen, who got about $180,000 from the state, a sum that fits within a state-mandated cap, and about $50,000 in additional salary from private sector contributions.
The pending announcement of McCullough’s appointment was reported in an April 16 Mississippi Business Journal story.
McCullough will step down from the Mississippi College Board. Bryant said on Tuesday that he has nominated Dr. John W. Starr Jr., a Columbus periodontist, to replace McCullough, who as nominated in February but was not to take the position till May 8.
Blake A. Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, called McCullough “an excellent choice to position Mississippi for the next generation of economic development success, building on the strong base that has already been established over the last three years.”
Wilson said he thinks McCullough can “focus the MDA’s marketing programs with laser precision” and deploy resources wisely to boost workforce development, existing business and industry expansion and tourism.
McCullough holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Mississippi State University. He and wife Laura have two sons and one granddaughter and are members of Lee Acres Church of Christ.