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Hancock panel hires adviser for development plan

By JACK WEATHERLY 

Hancock County is known for its futuristic Stennis Space Center.

But the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission wants to make sure its vision stays forward-looking.

So it recently signed a contract with VisionFirst Advisors to develop a development strategy.

VisionFirst is based in Tallahassee, Fla., but it is a wholly owned subsidiary of THE Jackson-based Butler Snow law firm.

Its president and chief operating officer is Gray Swoope, former executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority. Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi, is chairman of the board.

The firm was established in February 2015.

Swoope said in a release that “now is the time for the commission to . . . align the resources and stakeholders to drive a program of work which clearly articulates” what the county has to offer.

Bill Cork, the commission’s chief executive, said in an interview that “we’ve got a lot of aerospace and aviation assets along the coast and it’s been awhile since anybody on the coast has really taken a comprehensive look at emerging markets and how well we are positioned here.”

“So we’re kind of taking the lead on that on the west end of the coast.”

The commission wants the consultants to put them in touch with emerging industries – specifically unmanned aerial systems, or drones.

“The other thing that is driving it is the lack of federal investment in manned space flight and the significant movement into commercial space flight,” Cork said.

“We need to be sure that we’re positioning the county assets more broadly to attract that commercial investment, in addition to the federal investment that we usually get through the NASA Stennis Space Center.”

“What we hope to get out of it is a work-force development plan as well as a list of prospects.”

The reports are due by the end of May, so that the commission can include them in the budget for 2018, Cork said.

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