Area partnership targets new industry recruitment

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 23, 2009

MEADVILLE – Gov. Haley Barbour will directly support anaggressive industrial recruitment strategy being employed by theSouthwest Mississippi Partnership by doing some of the recruitinghimself, state officials revealed Wednesday.

Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Gray Swoopesaid the governor could be called on to meet with representativesfrom a prospective industry once the partnership has identified theindustry, recruited effectively and needs only to “pull thetrigger” to land it in the partnership’s 10-county area.

“He’s ready to go,” Swoope said of Barbour’s involvement in therecruiting strategy. “When the opportunity presents itself and wesee the governor can be a difference-maker in the deal, we willcall him in. Our governor knows more about economic developmentthan probably any other governor in the country.”

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The partnership is working to make good on Barbour’soften-quoted promise that Southwest Mississippi should be the nextarea of the state to experience industrial development after being”left out” of projects like the recruitment of Toyota and Nissan tonorth and central Mississippi, respectively. Swoope said Barbourencouraged and supports the partnership’s initiative to identifyand recruit a new industry to the 10-county area in 18 months.

“The governor, in his five years in office, has never missed ameeting of Momentum Mississippi,” Swoope said of Barbour’s economicadvisory board. “From his standpoint, he will be joined at the hipwith MDA.”

John Turner, the director of economic development for EntergyMississippi – a major corporate member of the partnership – saidthe partnership has submitted a list of target industry types toMDA, and the list should reach the governor’s desk by mid-May.

The target industry list is the culmination of Phase One of theeffort, and it was not compiled haphazardly, Turner said. AtWednesday’s Southwest Mississippi Economic Development Symposium atOkhissa Lake in Franklin County, he explained how the targetindustries were selected through an extensive analysis of theregion’s resources, workforce abilities, leadership and otherqualities.

“We’re trying to get that rifled approach,” Turner said. “Welooked at the trends in the business world for this area, and wewanted to quickly get to what our target industries were.”

The partnership has placed the biomass/biofuels industry as thetop industry type for the region due to Southwest Mississippi’sabundance of, and experience in, forestry resources. Distributionservices and food products/processing follow in priority.

Partnership president Cliff Brumfield said Phase Two of theinitiative – deciding how the region can best prepare and marketitself to the target industry types – will begin immediately andshould conclude by August.

“Phase Two will allow us to utilize our data in a way that movesus closer to our final goal,” said Brumfield, executivevice-president of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce. “(Phase Two) will lay the groundwork and put together ourroad map to accomplishing Phase Three.”

When Phase Two is complete, Brumfield said Phase Three – makingcontact with and actively recruiting industries – will begin.

Even though the condition of the national economy has broughtlayoffs and freezes to industrial expansion, the partnership isforging ahead – the 18-month initiative was actually devised tocombat the conditions.

Carol Johnson, president and founder of Continuous Dialogue – aconsulting company that specializes in economic development, saidthe current national economic slow-down presents SouthwestMississippi with an opportunity to organize and recruit effectivelyagainst larger competing regions.

“There’s been a lull, a timeout called,” she told partnershipmembers and private business leaders at the symposium. “The timeoutgives an advantage to the newer team, the team that’s not used tobeing on the field as much, and that’s where you all may find atremendous advantage.”

Johnson also praised the formation of the partnership and itsability to strengthen the region. Partnership officials displayedstatistics showing the combined industrial power of the 10-countyregion, which contains 190,000 people and an available workforce of73,000.