Creating jobs one of Haley Barbour’s top priorities

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Published: December 15,2003

In less than a month before he will be inaugurated Mississippi’s 52nd governor, Republican Haley Barbour is hosting a Job Creation Summit December 15-16. The invitation-only event, which begins the 15th with a reception at Union Station and followed by a full day of events at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, both located in downtown Jackson, will feature keynote speakers Fred Smith, CEO of Federal Express, and Andrew Card, chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

“Creating more and better jobs is the most urgent priority for our state and will be the first goal of my administration,” said Barbour. “Hosting the Job Creation Summit (will) bring together elected officials, economic development leaders, higher education leaders, and business leaders from all across the state to examine key issues that affect job creation and economic development.”

Job Creation Summit co-chairs are Mississippi Power Company CEO Mike Garrett and BancorpSouth CEO Aubrey Patterson, with leaders from around the state serving as event vice-chairs.

“This is the first time in recent history where a newly-elected governor has shown this level of commitment to job creation (by) getting people together before he’s in office in an attempt to focus on this one issue. That is commendable,” said Garrett. “This summit will be a great start at getting people together from throughout the state to assess issues regarding job creation and help identify barriers that keep us from reaching our potential.”

Thomas Colbert, president of the board of trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), one of the event vice-chairs, said IHL plays a critical role in the economic future of the state “so we are pleased to be participating in the governor-elect’s summit and hope to contribute to its success in any way we can.”

Jimmy Heidel, executive director of the Warren County Port Commission, Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce and Vicksburg Economic Development Foundation, said he believes the job summit will result in a stronger partnership between the state, private sector and universities.

“I hope we can come to some common ground, where we can do things like pass technologies from universities to existing industries, or start new home-grown industries from that technology,” he said. “Everyone needs to understand what’s going on in the state, how resources can be made available and how ideas and discoveries can be kept in Mississippi.”

Heidel, who will vice-chair the economic development session, and who is widely speculated to once again head the state’s economic development agency, said he thinks this job summit will differ from similar events because “the governor is reaching out to every facet of business in the state, from large corporations to small business people, and asking how we can formulate a plan for economic development that will be inclusive and effective.”

Garrett called Barbour’s job summit a “bottom-up” approach, which is “different from what is usually done.”

Mississippi Economic Council president Blake Wilson said Barbour is “sending a strong message to everyone in Mississippi that he’s very serious about making something happen in job creation.”

“Clearly, when we did our Mississippi Express meetings around the state, this was our number one issue, with education second,” said Wilson. “These are both so critical to our state that you can only applaud the governor-elect for making this a priority to jumpstart this new administration.”

Wilson called the state’s interconnections among people and relationships “our secret weapon.”

“Haley Barbour has done a great job of pulling people together,” he said.

Mississippi Economic Development Council president Gray Swoope said Barbour’s transition team has already sought input from economic developers from all areas of the state on how to approach workforce training and more and better jobs.

“I’m looking forward to listening to Fred Smith and Andrew Card,” said Swoope, who is also president of the Area Development Partnership (ADP). “I’m very interested in the breakout sessions, which are going to provide us an opportunity to give our perspective from the greater Hattiesburg area on some of the things we think are important for our state and can help grow jobs in South Mississippi.”

The breakout sessions will feature presentations by panelists exploring critical issues such as workforce development and job training, lawsuit abuse, maximizing higher education’s role in economic development and Mississippi’s distinct business opportunities.

Mississippi Manufacturers Association president Jay Moon, who will talk about future workforce training needs, said the broad lineup of topics and experts will cover many issues the state’s business community is facing.

“Manufacturing has changed, and so have the workforce training needs,” he said. “We have to think about retraining all the time, instead of just training. Technology will change, so the jobs will change. Higher math skills will be required to reason through problems on the work floor. So the training has to change as quickly as the technology.”

Business leaders will discuss modifying some of the existing restrictions on workforce training dollars, said Moon.

“For example, you can’t give a multi-year allocation of workforce training dollars,” he said. “You can’t put a dollar value on the training. These are areas that sometimes make us not competitive with other states.”

Mississippi Employment Security Commission executive director Curt Thompson said he hopes summit leaders will “try to fine tune … our system for workforce development.”

Wayne Stonecypher, executive director of the Mississippi State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, is optimistic about seeing a much more coordinated workforce training effort.

“You get a chance about once every 10 years to make a change in how things are done, and based on the things Haley Barbour is doing, we have that chance,” he said. “I’m confident he’s going to make the right decisions for us.”

The brainstorming event should lead to positive structural changes, said Stonecypher.

“We’ll certainly have a lot of rhetoric along the way, but I think we’ll come out of this conference with action and not just words,” he said.

Phil Hardwick, coordinator of capacity development for the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said the summit is another example of Barbour’s inclusiveness of having many different people come up with solutions to Mississippi’s problems and a vision for the state’s future.

“I believe (Barbour) understands that no one, not even him, has all the answers,” he said. “One of his traits is to get advice and opinions before making a decision. Instead of announcing some new economic development initiative, he is listening first. The caliber of speakers he is bringing to the summit is inspiring. Fred Smith of FedEx is certainly someone who knows how to create jobs and compete in a global environment. We need to listen to what he has to say.”

Moon said this job summit differs from similar ones because it’s invitation-only.

“The result will be an almost seamless move from the summit right into the legislative session, with fresh information from the business community that hasn’t been sitting on a shelf,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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