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Madison Co. begins hunt for new economic development chief amid emphasis on results

TONY GREER

TONY GREER

TIM COURSEY

TIM COURSEY

By TED CARTER

The departure of Tim Coursey as head of the Madison County Development Authority has left County Administrator Tony Greer in a dual role of running the county and its business recruitment.

Greer’s double duty comes just two weeks after a Board of Supervisors’ retreat at which the board decided to put achievement of economic development results at the forefront. “They made it one of their highest priorities,” Greer said. “They’ve decided it’s the tip of the spear.”

Madison County Supervisor Gerald Steen alluded to that new importance – and a new strategy – in an April 8 press release on Coursey’s resignation. “As the landscape of economic development changes across Mississippi and our country, we are looking forward to working toward building a new plan which requires accountability and measurement that will accomplish positive changes in Madison County.”

Greer, in an interview Tuesday, said his added role  is temporary and will be over as soon as Madison County supervisors complete a national search for an executive director to replace Coursey.

The interim job won’t be in inexperienced hands, Greer said. He said he gained economic development experience in a previous elected post as president of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors. The board, he said, worked with the Mississippi Development Authority to successfully recruit Continental Tire to Hinds County’s Bolton community.

Coursey held the top business development job for a dozen years and is reported to have left to take on private business obligations following the recent sudden death of his brother, whom he had partnered with in several private business pursuits. He did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

Madison County supervisors are already evaluating executive recruitment firms that specialize in finding effective economic developer candidates, according to Greer.

The selected firm will be charged with finding a business development specialist with a “deep toolbox,” Greer said, citing the need for a pro with international experience and ability to shape “financial modeling” to fit the needs of whatever business the county is courting.

The renewed commitment of Madison supervisors to economic development brings an increased emphasis on getting a major tenant, or tenants, for the Panther Creek mega-site, a nearly 2,000-acre of development-ready tract off Nissan Drive in Canton.

The tract is “Entergy Qualified,” meaning the power company has closely evaluated it for development risks and deemed the property viable. It lacks, however, a rail spur, something that would be an important asset for gaining a major business tenant in the automotive sector or other types of heavy manufacturing.

High-tech, on the other hand, is a good play for the Panther Creek site, Greer said. This is especially so for bio-medical because of the park’s inclusion in one of the state’s medical industry zones.

The mega-site’s location within a five-mile radius of Madison River Oaks Medical Center in Canton qualifies prospective medical-related tenants for such incentives as an accelerated, 10-year state income tax depreciation deduction and a sales tax exemption for equipment and materials purchases.

Madison County will go lease or sale on property within the Panther Creek site and will subdivide for a sufficiently attractive tenant prospect, according to Greer.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to attract the right business to that property,” he said.

Development of a conference center and conference center hotel is another key economic project. The county first explored the project 13 years ago. The emergence of Madison County as a strong lodging and hospitality market has brought renewed interest in the project.

Supervisors earlier this month heard a presentation from Johnson Consulting of Chicago, a firm that in mid-2015 produced a feasibility study for the Madison County Business League & Foundation that projected sufficient use of the meetings center and bookings for the hotel. On the downside, the study noted the county should expect losses on its investment in the first decade the center and hotel are open.

The board agreed to give the project further consideration, Greer said, and noted “there were some business heavyweights there in support of the presentation.”

Greer, meanwhile, praised Coursey’s sustained efforts in support of a belief in Madison County as a business destination. “Tim Coursey led MCEDA for the last 12 years and is leaving Madison County poised to capitalize on his body of work,” he said in an email.

“He was bullish on Madison County and his efforts to bring companies here reflected that passion.”

Board of Supervisors President Trey Baxter said in a press statement Coursey “helped attract businesses to our county that continue to provide important services and jobs. I know that Tim is a passionate entrepreneur and will be successful in future endeavors.”

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