Executive director out, but MDA saw success in FY 2001

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Published: October 15,2001

JACKSON — It was a very busy year for the Mississippi Development Authority.

Nissan. Name change. Rebranding. New economic development program.

And that was before Gov. Ronnie Musgrove fired executive director J.C. Burns Oct. 2. Questions remain about Burns’ ouster, but MDA’s FY2001 Report Card, released shortly before Burns’ departure, paints a bright picture — and a very fruitful year.

Nissan Motor Company announced last November that it would build a new $930-million automotive plant in Madison County, directly employing 4,000 people and indirectly creating 26,400 jobs.

Even though thousands of jobs — mostly manufacturing — were lost last year, other business location and expansion announcements accounted for 195 new manufacturing and non-manufacturing facilities, 11,992 jobs and an investment of more than $2.5 billion throughout the state, according to MDA’s Fiscal Year 2001 Report Card.

Site Selection magazine selected MDA as one of the top 10 economic development organizations in North America and the Nissan deal as one of the top 10 site locations in the U.S. Expansion Management magazine ranked the Nissan project as one of the top 10 deals in the U.S.

Corporate Location magazine selected the Nissan project as the top deal of the year in the world. Southern Business & Development also called it the top deal of the year. And Area Development magazine named Nissan as one of the top 10 job creation projects of the year.

Last month, the Southeast Tourism Society named MDA’s Division of Tourism the State Organization of the Year for the first time in its 17-year history based in part on an increase of 24.9% in the number of inquiries for tourism information. A $6.1-billion industry and the state’s second largest service sector employer, tourism increased 9.6% over the previous year. During FY2001, 34 million people visited Mississippi.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Mississippi ranked first among all states in terms of percentage of increase in export trade over the previous year, marking the first time in Mississippi’s history that the state has led the nation in growth of exports. Through June 2001, Mississippi exported approximately $1.79 billion worth of goods, reflecting a 40.68% increase over the previous year.

“It was a very successful year for MDA for new business locations and the expansions of existing industry,” said MDA director of communications Sherry R. Vance, in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal before Burns’ firing. “In addition to that, we were very proud to be honored as one of the top 10 economic development organizations in North America and that we will continue to strive to make the agency the most productive, efficient agency for economic development.”

Robert Ingram, executive director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at the University of Southern Mississippi, also speaking to the MBJ before Oct. 2, said, “MDA did a good job in the last fiscal year. Nissan was a great victory and MDA appears to be having success in locating tier one suppliers. Hopefully that success will be a statewide one as recruitment of tier two and three companies takes place. I am concerned about MDA’s projected future budget cuts because many of our smaller communities are greatly dependent on MDA for marketing help and assistance.”

Mississippi lawmakers, again speaking with the MBJ before the Burns’ incident, praised MDA’s high marks, but said it wouldn’t make any difference when budget cuts were discussed.

“In terms of overall performance and given that we’re in a recessionary period in the country and the state, the agency has done about as well as could be expected,” said Sen. John Horhn (D-Jackson), member of the economic development, tourism and parks committee. “Personally, I would like to see more emphasis and promotion of tourism related projects and activities. Of course, the Nissan project overshadows almost all the other activity in the state. That seems to be where a lot of the agency’s attention is focused.”

FY2001 expenditures for MDA totaled $120.5 million, with the biggest chunk — $64 million — in community services.

Employment training accounted for $25.5 million, tourism reflected approximately $11.4 million and support services cost $9.1 million. MDA’s international/national program accounted for $3.5 million, existing industry and business expenses totaled $1.6 million and energy reflected $2.76 million. Welcome center expenses totaled $1.5 million and financial resources accounted for $868,179.

“You have to promote the state to attract people to it and we’ve cut their advertising and promotion budget to the point where they’re not as effective marketing the state as they could be,” Horhn said. “I don’t see that changing unfortunately because of the condition of the state’s budget.”

Sen. William “Bill” Minor (D-Holly Springs), finance committee chairman, said MDA is doing “a pretty good job.”

“Most of what we’re looking at is what they’re spending out at the Nissan site,” he said.

Minor wouldn’t speculate on the percentage on anticipated budget cuts to MDA for FY2003.

“We’ll start setting the budget based on the projections in January and February, and by the end of March we’ll make the final adjustments of what might or might not be here during the 2003 session.”

Rep. William McCoy (D-Rienzi), chairman of the House ways and means committee, called FY2001 “a banner year.”

“It would be rather hard for any other state to match the accomplishment we’ve all had together,” McCoy said. “Even aside from the Nissan project and Advantage Mississippi Initiative, when you look at what we’ve done legislatively in partnership with the governor and the MDA, we’ve had an excellent year.”

But even McCoy, who called himself “an eternal optimist,” predicted “a very frugal year.”

“We’ll be able to meet the essential services of the state that government is expected to perform and the essential needs of the citizens will be met,” he said. “But there are going to be many wants that are not met.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.


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