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MDA asking for increase after several years of level funding

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) is doing more with less. That’s the message the state agency communicated at its recent Legislative Budget Office hearing while requesting funding for fiscal year 2009, which begins next July. The amount requested is $24.15 million, an increase of $550,000 but still below funding of previous years.

“For the last three years, we’ve operated with level funding,” said executive director Gray Swoope. “We’ve been good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and been more efficient with less money and less employees. The evidence of what we’re doing can be seen in the job numbers and new industries in the state.”

The additional $550,000 requested is for global business recruitment and disparity study funding. With the momentum achieved in the global market, as evidenced by the Toyota project and its announced suppliers, MDA wants to build on this prime opportunity to showcase the state’s business advantages to global companies.

“The disparity study will help MDA determine the effectiveness of our programs and services to empower and assist all types of businesses in the state,” said Melissa Medley, marketing and communications director. “It will help us determine how we can improve or expand our programs and services as necessary.”

Roughly $2.7 million out of the total $24-million budget, or approximately 11.25%, is devoted to industry recruitment. This amount does not count indirect recruitment costs such as advertising and marketing.

Swoope said the budget request was well received by the Legislative Budget Committee. “We had some positive dialogue and there was no friction whatsoever,” he said. “It was a chance for us to talk about what we’re doing and get constructive feedback from them.”

MDA will return to the Legislature when the 2008 session convenes in January. At that time, it will present a request for advertising funds. Approval of the total budget request will not be received until the end of the session. Then the new budget kicks in July 1.

“We used some of this year’s advertising budget for ads for the state as a whole and some for GO Zone ads,” Swoope said. “We would like to have some funds again to tell the story about the GO Zone and what’s taking place on the Coast.”

Medley added that MDA conducts ongoing image building for the state out of the budget they have, but it’s just not enough money.

On the playing field

“If there’s a silver lining in Katrina, it’s that the essence of Mississippi has become known far and wide,” Swoope said. “Our people, their values and hard work have become known. That gets us on the playing field.”

MDA has been active in disaster recovery and has 22 temporary employees working full time on the efforts. Those efforts have been in administering homeowner and economic development grants, community revitalization and state port recovery. The director says that work will continue until the job is done.

As the lead organization charged with the state’s economic development, MDA can point to numerous accomplishments. From July 2006 through July 2007, 174 new facilities and 9,225 new jobs were added to the state’s economic engine. There were also 557 expanded facilities that added 6,181 new jobs.

Those new industries include Toyota, PSL-North America, GE Aviation, PACCAR, Toyota Boshoku, RTI International Metals, Toyota Auto Body, Comcast and Windsor Foods. Recent expansions include ACCO Brands, Avery Dennison Corporation, Raytheon and Howard Industries.

“If we look around the state, we see that the new jobs created have geographic and employment type diversity,” Swoope said. “It’s very significant that we have hallmark names coming into the state. If I put on my state hat and look around, I see things going on all over.”

Listening, responding

In some instances, MDA spends time and resources working with companies to retain them and their jobs in the state.

“I hope people realize MDA is doing more with less and leveraging partnerships,” he said. “It’s important that we have an ear for the communities in the state.”

To that end, the agency’s leave-behind message to the Legislative Budget Committee was that economic development is a team sport. Team members include communities, economic development organizations, utilities and the governor.

“We’ve built trust and working relationships with them,” Swoope said. “We have our plan in place and we’re working our plan. It’s not just a plan sitting on a shelf.”

Team Mississippi is a newly formed group made up of Entergy, Mississippi Power Company, the Electric Power Association, the North Mississippi Industrial Association and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“They’ve contributed $160,000 and are working with us to put together a marketing plan,” he said. “It’s never been done before.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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