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Business, industry, governmental leaders gather in Jackson

Partnership building public-private relationships

Mississippi Power’s plan to bring economic developers together in a business partnership to raise incentive funds and expedite economic development in the state got a huge boost when Gov. Ronnie Musgrove joined the venture. The partnership was bolstered further when federal and state lawmakers gathered with top execs earlier this month to facilitate a much-needed plan.

At his inaugural state of the state address, Musgrove surprised lawmakers by naming himself as co-chair of the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development with Mississippi Power Company CEO Dwight Evans in a joint effort between public and private sector leaders to revamp economic development incentives.

According to The Sun Herald, Musgrove scored kudos when he revealed the plan to partner with Evans that would hopefully “replace the state’s ‘out-dated economic plans’ and ‘stale incentives’ for economic development.”

The Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development was launched last summer by Mississippi Power, a plan initiated by Evans.

“The Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development was the private predecessor of what the governor has endorsed,” said Kurt Brautigam, spokesperson for Mississippi Power Co. “It was an effort from the private sector to work together and develop resources to supplement economic development efforts in the public sector throughout the state.”

The day before Mississippians voted in party primaries, state officials, mostly Democrats, and federal officials, predominantly Republicans, rubbed elbows with top executives of Entergy Mississippi, BellSouth, Freide Goldman Halter and other primarily Mississippi-based companies to establish goals of the partnership program.

“We’ve had unprecedented growth in some parts of the state,” Evans said. “We are having unemployment at historically low rates, and other states are realizing they have to compete with us.”

U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss) said the group should move quickly to capitalize on the state’s current economic environment.

“I think we have from five to 10 years to bring investment in to Mississippi that will be sustaining,” Pickering said last summer, a point he reiterated earlier this month.

The partnership program was modeled after a similar program in Alabama so successful that in 1993 Mercedes-Benz chose to locate a plant in Alabama rather than Mississippi, based on incentives provided by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, a private organization of business leaders, and the state of Alabama. Soon after Mercedes-Benz put Alabama on the map, international companies such as Honda and Boeing followed suit.

“Before that, Alabama was viewed as a non-skilled state,” Neal Wade, president of the Alabama organization told Mississippi business leaders at the kickoff of the private partnership organization in August. “We were ‘Bubba.’ We were redneck. We were Alabama football. We focused on trying to get Alabama in front of decision makers.”

The state of Alabama spent $300 million and the private organization kicked in $11 million to attract Mercedes-Benz, Wade said.

“(Our) partnership program is making good progress,” Evans said. “For the first time in recent history in our state, we have a group of people representing the private sector who have come together to focus their attention on the economic vitality of the state. The partnership is beginning to create a critical mass, including both the public and private sectors, that will enable us to develop and implement programs to improve economic development in Mississippi.”

The private statewide organization had initiated a fund-raising goal of $1.5 million, with money earmarked to promote the state, provide incentives and address issues, namely education, that affect the state’s economy.

“We are quickly closing in on our fund-raising goal,” Evans said. “We have been successful in securing initial funding that is enabling us to begin our work and we are optimistic that the partnership will reach funding levels adequate for us to be able to continue doing the things we want to do.”

One of the first commitments came from a dozen or so business folks in Meridian who pitched in $10,000 each, donating a total of about $115,000, Brautigam said.

“Mississippi Power has a vested interest in the economic vitality of this state,” he said. “Now with the support of the governor, the private sector will continue to supplement public efforts locally and statewide.”

Mississippi State University President Mack Portera said that research in telecommunications, information technology and biological fields should not be overlooked and could be funded by state-issued “bonds for science.”

“The partnership hopes to complete the goal-setting part of its agency by April 1,” Portera said.

Last fall, the group made a commitment to work closely with the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development. Since then, J.C. Burns has been named to the top post of MDECD. On Feb. 4, he kicked off a statewide journey to determine what was needed to spur economic development.

“The current economic development plan was drafted 12 years ago,” Burns said. “We need a new one to reflect changes in technology, training and transportation.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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