Officials push regional economic plan

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 8, 2004

SUMMIT – Southwest Mississippi economic development officialsare encouraging a targeted marketing plan to generate business andindustry interest in the area.

Elected and other officials from the area heard an overview ofthe plan Thursday during a meeting at Southwest MississippiCommunity College. Britt Herrin, president of the SouthwestMississippi Partnership, said the organization of economicdevelopment officials’ goal for the plan was to address job lossesin the region.

“We’re really focused on this area and what it’s going to taketo generate new interest in this area,” Herrin said.

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Tom Stellman, president of TIP Strategies in Austin, Texas,developed the plan for the region. He discussed the changing natureof business activities and what communities can do to promoteeconomic development.

Stellman said the future of economic development will be aboutcommunities keeping talented people in their areas. He indicatedthose people would be important in attracting businesses.

“That’s what companies are going to need in order to beproductive,” Stellman said.

Stellman stressed the importance of quality of place, aredefinition of quality of life to focus on understanding targetedaudiences, diversity and authenticity of a community. Regardingauthenticity, Stellman said downtowns are important indifferentiating one community for another.

“That’s a huge asset,” Stellman said.

Regarding southwest Mississippi, Stellman said there is a hugeopportunity with the Homochitto National Forest and development ofthe Lake Okhissa recreational area. He said those have thepotential to impact smaller communities across the region.

“I think you have to pay attention to that,” Stellman said. “Itneeds to be part of your thinking.”

The $100,000 marketing plan was developed over a nine-monthperiod using funds from the Mississippi Development Authority.

MDA Executive Director Leland Speed discussed technology changesthat allow people to live and work just about anywhere they choose.He also cited population trends indicating that 50 million peoplein the Northeast will move to the South or Midwest over the next 20years.

“The demographics are very much in our favor,” Speed said.

While the state will continue to seek manufacturing jobs, Speedalluded to the growth of service-oriented jobs. He indicated thatthe ability to attract those jobs will be vital to communitysuccess.

“It’s going to come in communities that have quality of place,”Speed said. “That’s one of our challenges.”