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Development leaders told to ‘put best foot forward’

Regional government and economic leaders gathered Friday morning to discuss continued efforts to further grow the economy of Southwest Mississippi.

     Local city leaders praised the program and what it represents.

     “I just thought it was really beneficial,” said Brookhaven’s Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes.

     The meeting, held at Lampton Auditorium, was hosted by the Southwest Mississippi Partnership, a regional economic development organization. Mayor Les Bumgarner highlighted the importance of the kind of regional cooperation the group represents.

     “We’re working together,” Bumgarner said. “That’s where the strength is.”

     To that end, Bumgarner said a Southwest Mississippi mayors group has been formed and will meet in April.

     “We’re trying to get us a little more bargaining power,” Bumgarner said.

     The Southwest Mississippi Partnership has been around 15 years and is composed of 10 counties in the region, said Cliff Brumfield, a leader in the group and executive vice president of the local chamber of commerce.

     He said part of Friday morning’s focus was emphasizing that the standards have changed in economic development.

     “It means so much more than wanting or waiting for a project,” Brumfield said. “It takes a scientific approach.”

     Speakers included Kathy Gelston with the Mississippi Development Authority. Gelston advised community leaders as to attracting companies to an area.

     Gelston warned that communities have to be prepared beforehand as to what they’re willing to offer.

     Gelston warned that companies have come to have high expectations for incentive packages. Site evaluation consultants will cut a site if it’s not willing to offer a 10-year property tax exemption – and that’s before the site has even been seen.

     “Communities need to be prepared to know what they are willing to offer,” Gelston said.

     That beforehand knowledge can be valuable in the increasingly fast-pasted process of industrial development.

     Gelston said in years past industries tended to more methodical and spend months evaluating a site. The pace has rapidly accelerated and now only weeks may be spent on the same process.

     Gelston also advised communities to identify their own weaknesses beforehand rather than being surprised by them when a company or industry asks about them.

     She also had another piece of advice: Sometimes economic development can be like a first date.

     “On that first visit, you want to put your best foot forward,” Gelston said.