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GJCP's O'Neill talks about $380K salary controversy

Duane O’Neill

When tax returns of several area nonprofits were published recently by Jackson blog Jackson Jambalaya .com, many readers were upset to learn that the president and CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership made nearly $380,000 a year. Some readers thought the number was too high and asked what the Partnership’s leader did to justify the amount of compensation.

Since the Partnership is a nonprofit, CEO Duane O’Neill’s salary is determined by a committee within the organization.

Speaking as a member of the committee, Madison lawyer Andy Taggart said, “Duane O’Neill is a huge bargain to the whole metro Jackson region, even if we paid him more than he’s now making. The review that was conducted when his salary was set was a consequence of a review of similarly situated cities around the country.”

An important thing for folks to keep in mind is that Duane’s job is not as a single city chamber director but as a regional director, Taggart said. “Duane is essentially the coordinator who conducts development efforts for a large chunk of central Mississippi — more than what we think of as the metro Jackson area.”

The Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, in addition to Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties, serves Copiah, Simpson and Warren counties.

According to the Form 990 submitted in fall 2009, the Partnership’s revenues totaled $2.3 million, and total functional expenses were $2.4 million.

O’Neill said the Partnership has approximately 2,000 member businesses in the tri-county area with an additional 600 or more in various counties throughout the state. Membership fees vary depending on business size. A typical annual membership fee for a small business is $300. Larger businesses may pay several thousand dollars annually.

The Partnership’s focus is on economic development, O’Neill said, and a particular focus for the group in 2010 will be the health care industry.

“I think chambers and economic development foundations should be hand in hand…People have to understand what we have to sell,” he said. “I feel strongly that (in Mississippi) it’s health care… We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the facilities.”

O’Neill said the Partnership has already hosted two meetings with doctors, hospitals and health care providers where they discussed how to come together and brand themselves as health care destination.
There is also a plan to host a summit in November with major national political figures, top scientists and pharmaceutical companies to discuss obesity research at University Mississippi Medical Center, he said. Mississippi is the fattest state in the nation, and “We are a walking laboratory for obesity research,” he said.
“This doesn’t mean that we give up on manufacturing,” O’Neill said. Some aerospace companies are looking at Mississippi now, and people emphasis Stennis or the Golden Triangle area, he said. “We say the workforce is mostly here in Jackson.”

• This is a developing story, and we’ll bring you more as we learn more. Keep an eye on www.msbusiness.com throughout the week and watch for our Feb. 8 print edition for the complete wrap up.


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About Amy McCullough


  1. uh oh ….looks like JJ let one of the sacred cats out of the bag. I dont know the people involved, but I do know that any business survives on the products/services that are delivered, profitably. Being a NON profit doesnt mean that the organization is without cash flow.

    For me, the salary of all these administration level folks are highly inflated . Matter of fact, I believe that, by the time you reach the CEO level, the job should be one of delegation to the proper people in the organization , and that shouldnt be too time consuming.

    Thinking that people are upset about this is similar to the Tiger effect…folks are presented one model and real life is the opposite.

  2. JDCarter

    If there are in our nation similarly situated cities to Jackson and the metro with populations of only 537,000 and they are paying what GJCP is paying O’Neill then they too are being taken for a ride. I don’t believe that Andy Taggart has any studies at all that objectively justify a salary of $380,000.

  3. Jamie

    even if his job is so important does he really deserve a pay check that big? doesn’t seem right. especially with so many people out of work and having a hard time making it.

  4. Randy James

    I am in total agreement with Andy Taggart’s comments. I have known Duane for many years, served on his board, and at one time served as his Board Chairman. I have seen first hand the quality of his leadership and the influence he has involving economic development, not only in the Metro Jackson Area, but also in our state. There are economic development organizations and chambers across the country who would hire him today and if that were to happen it would be a huge loss for our community and state. I consider Duane to be one of the true leaders who is moving us forward in a very positive way.

  5. Noel Daniels

    As with any business or organization, you always try to attract the brightest people to not only lead, but to be the “face” of the organization. Duane O’Neill has been a tremendous asset and driving force to the Greater Jackson area for over 20 years and has helped make the Metro Area a better place for all of us to live, work, and play. This is evidenced by several accolades given Jackson and the Metro Area recently.

    Regardless of the type of work or place of employment, a person’s salary should be based on what others in similar positions make and what they offer an organization in both the tangible and intangible ways. Duane is an important cog in driving the Greater Jackson area and we are fortunate to have his leadership.

  6. Charles Quitman

    There is an old adage, “You get what you pay for.” This is a critical organization for business development and job creation. So many people complain when the Jackson area doesn’t utilize its resources to improve these things. But this organization is paying a top grade professional the compensation package required. I think that is a positive thing. What we don’t need to do is try to grow the Jackson Metro area on the cheap, especially when it is businesses voluntarily contributing to the efforts like they do for the Chamber.

  7. Clay Hays, MD

    I’ve known Duane for years. He has done a terrific job bringing all parts of the Metro together. He has been a tireless advocate in the push for economic development in this area. Numerous other cities would love to have him. As current Chairman of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, I know our compensation committee did due diligence when setting his salary. It is performance based and compares favorably to cities our size. He is now setting the course for future economic development in the area of healthcare. As a practicing physician I understand how new medical research and development would be a tremendous boost to our economy. It takes leaders like Duane to set the course. People want value for their money and we are certainly getting it from Duane.

  8. Tom McIntosh

    O’Neil’s salary is among the highest in the country, Taggart is blowing smoke. There is no need to defend O;Neil people. No one is attackng him or the good job he does. It’s the exorbitant salary!

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