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MDA has good track record with tourism

Swoope: We must look at what debt we can issue versus what we can get in return

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has a pretty good track record recently of nurturing the state’s tourism industry. The MDA supported bond bills the Legislature passed to get the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretative Center open. The museum opened about a year ago and exceeded visitor estimates, propping up sales taxes in Sunflower County in the process.

The Infinity Project at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County is scheduled to open next year, and will offer the public the first real glimpse into the ins and outs of building and testing rocket engines. State money, with MDA’s support, was part of Infinity’s funding.

“Tourism bonds are not a new concept,” said MDA executive director Gray Swoope in a written statement. Swoope was in Asia last week with Gov. Haley Barbour and other officials on an 18-day economic development trip. “This type of legislation can be used effectively to build tourism product.”

House Tourism Committee chair Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian, would like for some of the state’s tourist attractions that need an additional bump in funding before becoming fully functional to be on the receiving end of similar bonds.

She pitched her idea to Swoope and other MDA officials during their hearing before the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing Sept. 24.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, the Mississippi Children’s Museum in Jackson and the establishment of a County Music Trail to complement the Mississippi Blues Trail could all be revenue-producing projects with a little help from the state, Peranich said. The Ohr-O’Keefe and the children’s museums have already gotten some state money but are still short on the amount it would take to bring each of them fully online. Each is expected to open within the next year.

If the state were not mired in a recession and if tax revenues were not stuck in a 13-month streak of falling below estimates, it would make the appropriation process in the Legislature a lot easier. The JLBC spent its four days of budget hearings telling every agency that appeared before it that the revenue was shallow and would continue to drop. For the state to pour money into a tourism project in a poor economy, the returns have to validate the investment, Swoope said.

“On any project, we would have to look at the costs and benefits to the state before considering the issuance of bonds,” Swoope said. “We must consider the state’s ability to issue debt versus the return in revenues generated, the number of jobs created and the number of visitors drawn to the state.

“MDA’s economic development efforts span much more than just manufacturing: tourism is an important part of the state’s overall economic development strategy.”

By CLAY CHANDLER I STAFF WRITER

clay.chandler@msbusiness.com

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