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Joe Max Higgins (right) with 60 Minutes reporter Bill Whitaker.

’60 Minutes’ effect: showers of positive news on Golden Triangle

By JACK WEATHERLY

Mississippi got the nation’s attention Sunday night – and it was all positive.

CBS’ “60 Minutes” focused on the economic strides of the Golden Triangle, whose points are Starkville, Columbus and West Point.

And it revolved around Joe Max Higgins, the colorful chief executive of LINK, the economic development agency for the area.

Higgins said on Monday he was surprised by the outpouring of phone calls, emails and social media contacts because of the show.

He said he has been contacted by about 25 companies, some of which “appear to be very, very legitimate.”

» WATCH: 60 MINUTES — How an economic developer is bringing factory jobs back to Mississippi

“I’ll tell you, I did not think about companies contacting us directly,” Higgins said.

He said his staff has been doing nothing but taking calls and building a spreadsheet.

» READ MORE: Golden Triangle economic development model could be emulated across state

He said he got 180 Facebook posts Sunday. “I responded to every one of them before I went to bed. I responded to every text and every email.”

He said he has heard from grade school chums and other friends.

Driving back from Jackson where he was working on a deal, he said  that when he got home in Columbus he was probably going to “sit in his chair, have a scotch and answer emails.”

Higgins got a call from a man in Savannah, Ga., who said, “I just want you to know I’m a veteran . . . and the piece made me proud for America,” Higgins related in his gravelly voice.

The television magazine gave Higgins the credit for attracting $6 billion of investment in advanced manufacturing.

The angle of the presentation was that right in the heart of Mississippi, known for its entrenched poverty, is a bonafide success story.

The program’s voice-over noted the decline of manufacturing in the whole country.

“Nearly a million manufacturing jobs have been created since the Great Recession. About 350,000 remain unfilled because factories cannot find properly trained workers,” the narrator said.

“The new plants demand more brain power than brawn. It’s called advanced manufacturing. If you want to know what it looks like, you need to go to a place that’s off the beaten path – the Golden Triangle.”

The recession hit the Golden Triangle hard. Several traditional, lower-paying manufacturers closed their doors before and after the Great Recession.

But with the arrival of the ultra-modern steel maker now known as Steel Dynamics, PACCAR, Airbus Helicopters and most recently Yokohama Tire, the economic landscape has changed.

And the positive reaction just keeps on coming.

“Sean Hannity called and I’m gonna be on his radio show tomorrow,” Higgins said. Here are the radio stations he’s on in the Magnolia State from 2 p.m. till 5 p.m.:

Jackson, WJDX-AM620; Hattiesburg, WMXI-FM; Tupelo, WKMQ-AM; Columbia and Prentiss, WCJU-FM; Meridian, WALT-FM and AM; Moss Point, WBUV-FM, and Columbia, WCJU-AM.

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