Partnership plans economic development effort

Published 7:34 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

With the hot afternoon slowly winding down and the day’sappointments complete, Bob Smira opens his e-mail and takes stockof the good news trickling into his inbox.

Reading from a weekly electronic magazine published by AreaDevelopment Online, the Lawrence County economic developer reads alist of headlines signaling progress in the business world -aerospace industries are starting to expand, the plastics industryis thriving and bioscience is filling in gaps in the line left whenhard times fell on the automotive industry.

“Corporate America is on the move again,” Smira said. “Everyindication to the economic developers in the world is we’re on theway out (of the recession). It’s not taking off, but there is someinterest out there, and we’re finding out from some consultantsthere are a number of inquiries being made.”

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For economic developers and industrial recruiters, now is the timestrike. In less than two weeks, the Southwest MississippiPartnership will go out on its own hunting party.

Representatives with the partnership, a coalition of 10 SouthwestMississippi counties banded together to attract industry to theregion, will travel to Dallas on Aug. 9 and 10 to meet with severalsite selection consultants – hired scouts who work on behalf ofgrowing industries to find suitable locations for expansionprojects. Big D has become one of the national hubs where siteconsultants work, so the Partnership will leave with a heftyportfolio of regional data carefully compiled to show why any placefrom Adams County to Lawrence County will allow industries’projects to thrive.

“We can make a firm case that Southwest Mississippi has a strategicadvantage for certain industries,” said Brookhaven’s CliffBrumfield, a member of the Partnership’s board of directors. “If wecan show a company it will cost them less to operate here asopposed to more densely populated areas, then we have a leg up inlocating that industry.”

Brumfield said the Partnership is looking for “high intellect, highvalue jobs and capital investment,” such as plastics industries,food processors, call and data support centers and biomassbusinesses. He rattled off a list of advantages SouthwestMississippi holds in running down these industries.

For food processing industries, the region’s business costs are 22percent less than the national average, and a skilled pool ofworkers already exists, working in 12 food processors alreadyoperating.

For industry as a whole, Southwest Mississippi has an above averageavailability of experienced manufacturing workers. Around 7,500people work at more than 140 manufacturing plants in the region,and 12 existing food processors employ an already-skilled pool ofworkers.

Southwest Mississippi has a high level of preparedness inindustrial sites like Lincoln County’s Linbrook Business Park, andstrong industrial training is offered at colleges throughout theregion.

The region has reliable transportation avenues in Interstate 55,Interstate 20, Highway 84 and the nation-spanning Canadian Nationalrailway, and commercial airports are close by in metro areas. TheState of Mississippi also offers attractive incentives to spurdevelopment.

And Southwest Mississippi has another, harder-to-find element inits favor.

“We offer much more than cookie cutter suburbia,” Brumfield said.”We have quality of life, strong faith-based organizations – alittle bit of that American personality that’s missing in manyurban markets.”

Making those points to consultants can’t be done with justPowerPoint and dossiers. The Partnership’s plan is two-fold: thegroup will split into groups of two and make their presentations inoffices around Dallas Monday and Tuesday, and on Tuesday nightthey’ll bring the lot of them to fellowship together at the RangersBallpark in Arlington to see the Texas Rangers take on the New YorkYankees.

“These guys are as eager to establish relationships with us as weare with them,” Brumfield said. “As the world becomes smaller,relationships become more key in making things happen.”

The Partnership comes home Wednesday to debrief and analyze theirefforts and continue sending and receiving information.

The group has roughly until Christmas to realize its goal oflanding new jobs in the region in 18 months. The objective was setlast spring.

Hard work and research has gone into the Partnership’s effort.Patience and diligence remain.

“This isn’t a situation where you go into a meeting and immediatelycome back with a potential project,” said Britt Herrin, Partnershippresident. “It’s really more of a long-term relationship buildingproject, getting the right information in front of the rightpeople.”

And while each county in the Partnership continues to fight its ownbattles for economic development, while wearing the Partnership hatthe members work as a team. None of the developers give out theirpersonal cards while on recruiting missions – all focus is on thewhole.

“We all work together to get something that benefits all of us,”Herrin said. “In this area you can drive 30-45 minutes to a goodjob, maybe even longer than that. Anything that locates here willbenefit the surrounding area.”