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Barbour looks back, ahead in speech to MEDC

Economic development is a marathon. It’s not a sprint.

That was the general theme of Gov. Haley Barbour’s speech at the Mississippi Economic Development Council’s Winter Meeting Thursday morning at the Hilton in Jackson.

No better illustration of that concept exists, Barbour said, than the process that led to Toyota’s decision to build in Blue Springs.

In the summer of 2004, a few months after Barbour started his first term, he went to the annual Mississippi Picnic in the Park in New York City’s Central Park. While he was there, Barbour ran into a few Toyota executives. Toyota had not made it known that they intended to build a new facility in North America, but Barbour chatted up Mississippi anyway.

“We worked with Toyota on tort reform, and on a lot of things that had nothing at all to do with Toyota,” Barbour told the several hundred gathered in one of the Hilton’s ballrooms.

And when Toyota started the competitive process to select a new site, “we were in a good position to compete because we had started the marathon,” Barbour said.

This was the eighth and final time Barbour would address the MEDC’s Winter Meeting, at least as governor. He did a lot of reflecting, recounting the horror of Katrina and the early stages of economic and physical recovery. He implored the economic developers in attendance to have a plan in place for every conceivable disaster, natural or otherwise.

And speaking of Katrina, Barbour said Mississippi stood its best chance of emerging from the recession at the front of the pack because of the acclaim Mississippi earned for the way we handled ourselves in the wake of the hurricane.

“CEOs told me then and they tell me now that we have an awful lot to be proud of,” Barbour said.

The speech was not without a small amount of political posturing. Barbour said he was writing a letter today to lawmakers, urging them to refrain from spending all of the state’s Rainy Day Fund for fiscal year 2012, whose budget-crafting process, to go with redistricting, will be the biggest issue of the legislative session. Depleting the cash reserves would increase Mississippi’s chances of landing another Toyota or Nissan, because it would give those companies assurance that “their taxes aren’t going to be increased,” Barbour said. “And that’s music to their ears.”

 

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