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Angela Curry creating opportunities for people in her home in the Mississippi Delta

Angela Curry

By NASH NUNNERY

Fresh out of Mississippi Valley State University with diploma in hand, Angela Curry began the daunting search for a job.

Curry, who grew up in tiny Teoc, Mississippi, applied at a Grenada temp agency and eventually received an offer to be an administration assistant with the Greenwood-Leflore County Industrial Board.

She’s never left.

Twenty-eight years later, Curry is the executive director for both the GLIB and the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation after serving time as admin assistant, office manager and assistant director.

Career dues paid.

“Funny but I just happened into the field of economic development the day I walked into that (temp) agency,” Curry said. “It was not my plan at all but it’s been great that I was able to work in several different capacities. I want my community to be a great place for people to work and have families.

“Anything I can do to help in that effort is fulfilling and keeps me motivated.”

Curry, one of the few African-American women in an economic development leadership role in Mississippi, says there is a perception that the segment is a male-only profession. She concurs that slowly but surely, the field is becoming more diverse.

“When I got into the profession, I had no inkling what economic development was. I’ve learned a lot and continue to learn,” Curry said. “I don’t mind putting on my boots and walking a site or unlocking the doors of a dark, empty building. When I’m able to help my community, it’s the best feeling in the world and I would encourage young people to explore the field.”

Economic development in the Mississippi Delta isn’t without challenges. Manufacturing jobs have become scarce, while agriculture remains king. But Curry remains upbeat despite the difficulty of recruiting new business to the region.

“It’s not easy but I believe the trend is changing,” she said. “We have several projects in the pipeline right now. Economic development is a slow process, so you work projects until you close the deal, answer the last question or you see the project is not a good fit. Often times, companies and employees are looking for amenities that small rural communities sometimes don’t have.”

One recent example was a California-based plastics manufacturing plant rumored to be coming to Greenwood, creating 75 jobs with a proposed $2 million investment. Curry asked the Greenwood city council to contribute $200,000 toward an incentive package, with the Foundation providing an additional unspecified sum.

“As of now, the project is on hold,” Curry said. “There are still some issues to be resolved, but we’re hopeful.”

The director also is encouraged by a new federal program offering tax incentives for areas designated “Opportunity Zones.” The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 established Opportunity Zones as a new community development program aimed to embolden long-term investments in low-income and rural communities.

Low-income communities, defined as census tracts with a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, and family income less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, are eligible.

The program is a perfect fit for Greenwood and Leflore County, acknowledged Curry.

“We’re always looking for resources that will make our community even more attractive to business,” she said. “We have two areas in Leflore County that are in the Opportunity Zone. We are looking forward to utilizing the program in the future.”

Looking ahead, Curry said she’ll remain aggressive in retention and recruiting of new industry, as well as with work-force development, and maintaining Greenwood’s Work Ready Community status.

Though she wouldn’t mind landing a ‘big box’ project such as a YokohamaTire  or Nissan, Curry actually prefers pursuing smaller game.

“Big industry companies are great and I’d love to recruit one,” she said. “But, when you lose a ‘big box’, the impact is devastating. I’ve witnessed that devastation firsthand during my 28 years. We’ve managed to fill most of our vacant buildings (with smaller projects) and would love to have the last two occupied.”

When she’s not working or serving on several local boards, including Main Street Greenwood, Museum of the Mississippi Delta and the Greenwood Hospital Foundation, Curry can be found on weekends at the drag strip.

As a spectator only, she insists.

“My fiancé has an ’89 Mustang that we race at tracks in Memphis, the Gulf Coast and all over,” Curry said.

“I enjoy the excitement.”

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