By Mickey Howley
The Mississippi Economic Development Council winter conference was in Jackson last week. Bob Tyler and I were there to listen and see what direction the winds of economic progress might blow.
MEDC is a statewide organization that covers the full range of development with a wide membership range of practitioners that go from local economy based folks like Main Streets and Chambers to county and regional people to heavy industry and international recruitment folks. With such a diverse range the conference often focuses on just one aspect of economic development.
Just as a reminder think of economic development as a three legged stool, with one leg being bringing in outside people and companies, but equally important are the other two legs being assisting local people with existing businesses grow and helping local people start up new ventures.
The recruitment of outside companies always seems to be the sexiest of the three, because it usually has the big, dramatic, big bucks game-changing feel to it; however it is the least dependable, and many feel the other two local legs must be strong if the outside recruitment leg is going to stand.
This MEDC conference was called “Meet the Consultants” and coming to talk were 10 nationally known specialists who are site selectors, that is they match companies looking to expand locations to places around the world. So this conference was focused on that third sexy leg—just a note the 2012 summer conference focused on local organizations and WV Main Street was featured. Much of the discussion this year was how is Mississippi doing and how does Mississippi look from the outside.
The answer to the first, as to how we’re doing, is things are improving. Not just chugga-chugging along on a side track, but back on the main line and rolling, with even some new economic tracks being laid. Mississippi added 6,265 new manufacturing jobs last year with $1.02 billion invested. Those numbers are a noticeable increase (not a decrease as before) and more per capita than many states. Plus manufacturing jobs are often seen as a multiplier meaning that those jobs—normally well paying—bring up local economies.
The view from the outside on Mississippi is better also. The consultants said there has been a noticeable positive perception change among economic development professionals in the last 10 years. Mississippi ranks with them as a place to take a first look. Moving not as fast, but still improving, is a positive perception among business executives. Overall perception in the general population is better as well, but there are still many historical negatives that linger. They said those take years to overcome. The consultants collectively made the comment that if people visit Mississippi they are always very pleasantly surprised.
Where To Go From Now
The consultants said keep economic development strong with continued funding, don’t cut back. It is paying back with a greater return more than ever. Plus other bordering states are moving aggressively with their programs.
• Fund education and develop newer connections in higher education— they cited the North Carolina research triangle as an example.
• Invest now in education but know payoffs don’t happen overnight, but when they do, they last.
• Keep local communities vibrant, quality of life is a big consideration for many companies when it comes down to making that final choice.