Survey’s goal to help businesses grow

Published 5:00 am Thursday, October 15, 2009

Economic developers across Mississippi are using a new method topoll businesses and industries to find out their needs and developbetter policies to assist their growth.

Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Gray Swoopeheld a roundtable meeting with development leaders from acrossSouthwest Mississippi Wednesday in Brookhaven to unveilPriorityOne. It is an enhanced, streamlined survey for businessowners and executives designed to identify obstacles to growth andcatalogue information that will be used to help draft competitiveeconomic policies for the state.

The 27-question survey was developed by MDA with feedback fromeconomic developers statewide in an effort to expand the reach ofthe organization’s Business Retention and Expansion Program, whichhas been given more emphasis in the wake of the nationalrecession.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“The market is telling is that if we don’t take care of(businesses) we have, we’re going to be hurting even more,” Swoopesaid. “Existing businesses are the backbone of our state, and we’vegot to pay them attention.”

Swoope said the PriorityOne survey, which is confidential toprotect specific business practices, is flexible, free and easy touse. Data from a business’ answers to the survey are entered into astatewide database that produces aggregate results, helping MDAdevelop better policies that will help businesses grow andexpand.

“If they answer in the form of a negative, they’re red-flagged,and it sends that information to the regional office so we can getout in front of it and say, ‘Hey, we need to work on this,'” Swoopesaid. “You’ve got a set of 27 questions that not only gives(economic developers) guidance, but helps you develop arelationship with those businesses.”

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive VicePresident Cliff Brumfield said beta testing for PriorityOne hasbeen conducted in Brookhaven among seven of the city’s largestemployers. Response to the new survey was positive, he said, withlocal developers learning valuable information about the city’seconomic base, including barriers to growth and some confidentialdevelopment opportunities.

“We have maintained close contact with our large employers, butthis program allows us to ask some pointed questions that don’tnormally come up in casual conversation,” Brumfield said. “Issuesin modern industry aren’t always as obvious as a tick from anengine, and through these in-depth discussions, we can find areasfor improvement.”

The increased emphasis MDA has placed on its Business Retentionand Expansion Program comes as a result of the global economicdownfall, which has resulted in a sharp increase in job loss andfewer opportunities for businesses and industries to open newlocations and expand into Mississippi.

Swoope said the issuance of warn notices and layoffs increasedin the second half of 2008 by 230 percent over the same period in2007.

“We’ve got to think of new ways to create economic wealth in ourcommunities,” he said.