By BECKY GILLETTE
Carol S. Harris was employed as a loan officer with Trustmark National Bank before going to work as a Housing Development Officer with the Mississippi Home Corporation, the housing finance agency for Mississippi, where she assisted Community Housing Development Organizations to fund and build more than 1,200 homes annually for low- to moderate-income residents. It was while doing this work that she came to realize how many families were in need of the basic necessities of life.
“I realized that there are a lot of people hurting in our state and there are multiple ways we can do something to help,” said Harris, who is director of the Minority and Small Business Development Division and MS Procurement Technical Assistance Program at the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). “Helping those families realize their dream of home ownership inspired me to continue my role as a public servant. My work at the MDA only expands my role of ensuring a better quality of life for all Mississippians. The programs offered through the MDA promote the expansion of business spending power, as well as allow for employment opportunities that promote economic growth and development for all communities in the state.”
Harris said working in economic development, whether it is for a small town or a large metropolis, you seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community by creating and/or retaining jobs and supporting or growing incomes and the tax base of the local and state economy. You become a leader in articulating the possibilities of that potential business, industry or community.
“I enjoy the work that we do very much,” Harris said. “We touch the lives of so many different people from all walks of life on a daily basis. Some are at different paths or turns in their life and trying to determine which road to take. We often act as a navigator in providing different roadmaps to their future. Therefore, you must be very sensitive to the fact that what you say or do may determine the direction that an individual will take or not, yet still work to ensure that they have the necessary tools they need to make the right decisions and succeed.”
Building capacity and providing access to business opportunities are the main objectives of the programs she oversees.
“The division serves as a catalyst for small, minority and women-owned businesses seeking the opportunity to do business with both government and private entities,” Harris said. “Our goal is to increase the rate of change and, therefore, the success of the client through the participation in events and services that advocate, administrate and provide access for small, minority and women-owned businesses in Mississippi.”
Their Outreach and Educational Programs are designed to help foster a positive working relationship between state, local and federal agencies and minority and women-owned businesses. That is accomplished with periodic workshops, forums and summits in strategic locations around the state, along with frequent communications through various websites and social media platforms. They also partner with other small, minority and women-owned business agencies, organizations and alliance groups around the state whose mission is also to assist with the growth and development of small businesses in the state.
The division holds a biennial conference intended to build relationships between Mississippi businesses and federal, state and local government, as well as corporate buying offices. The conference also promotes partnerships and strategic alliances to aid Mississippi businesses in competing in the global marketplace. This year’s 2019 Government Procurement Opportunities Conference will be held at the Jackson Convention Complex in Jackson May 14-15.
The event will kick off with a barbeque, blues and heritage welcoming reception at the 2 Mississippi Museum featuring entertainment by local blues legend Jesse Robinson. The second day will feature guest speakers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S Army Corps of Engineers, along with sessions to educate small businesses on contracting opportunities with large defense contractors.
Harris said the focus of the work of her office is on identifying new and emerging minority and women entrepreneurs while developing them into viable qualified business enterprises prepared and positioned to take advantage of public and private opportunities that contribute to the economic base of Mississippi. An on-going comprehensive plan encourages the use of qualified small, minority and women-owned business enterprises in the participation of public contracts, as well as other statewide projects.
“Such programs ensure that disadvantaged businesses have the necessary tools needed to compete more successfully on public projects, as well as in the global marketplace,” Harris said. “This provides the opportunity for a competitive bidding process, and ensures that there is a broad base of capable suppliers available to support our state and local government. The programs continue to expand the business spending power among minority and women-owned businesses and community while allowing for greater employment opportunities, an increase in the tax base, innovation and community investment and, most importantly, economic power that impacts communities throughout the state.”
The division’s Model Contractor Development Program is a nine-week workshop series that teaches practices to increase operations and bonding capacity. To date, the program has offered more than 30 Model Contractor Development Programs in 16 different cities in Mississippi. More than 900 participants have graduated from the program, and many of them have participated in the second phase of the program, which includes technical assistance and hands-on instruction.
“Upon completion of the program, businesses are privy to bonding and insurance relationships, banking relationships, as well as accounting relationships that they can utilize to ensure they are ready for bonding opportunities and better position their business to compete for contracting opportunities,” she said.
Harris grew up in rural Rankin County in a tight-knit family with eight siblings.
“We are very close and supportive of each other,” Harris said. “My father passed away in January 2013, but left a legacy of service, family and community with all of us. My greatest enjoyment is spending time with my kids. I have a 12-year-old son who is active in both basketball and football, so I spend a lot of time cheering on the Northwest Rankin Cougars. I come from a family of four girls and four boys and you can frequently catch anywhere from two to six of us, if not all of us, at my mother’s house sitting outside on the swing after dinner laughing and talking.”
Harris received a B.S degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a Masters of Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) degree with a concentration in Public Administration from Jackson State University. She lives in Brandon, and is a Sunday school teacher and choir and praise team member.
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