3Qs: Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council

By Dennis Seid | NEMS Daily Journal

Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, is on a statewide tour to talk about the results of Blueprint Mississippi 2011. In October, the MEC rolled out the initial findings, and in January, it will reveal the full report at the group’s Capital Day. He was in Tupelo on Friday to review some of the highlights of the plan.
Blueprint Mississippi was first released in 2004, and most of the report comes from a $1.25 million privately funded research project by the MEC, the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development and Momentum Mississippi.
The plan comes with nine major goals, with recommendations on how to accomplish each.
Q. What are some of the points you’ll be hitting during your tour?
A. If you look at what’s happened in Mississippi, there has been dramatic growth at several different times with breakthrough actions. You had a breakthrough with shipbuilding, then furniture, then gaming. And you’ve had a breakthrough with automotive. So how do you keep building on those? It’s interesting, when you look at the metrics, while furniture is down everywhere, there’s still strength in Mississippi. So we’ll need to look at how to continue to work on what we’ve got, while looking for the next breakthrough and making sure we’re in the right position.
Q. So how do we get in position to find that next breakthrough event?
A. You do that by looking at the tax climate and deciding what are we going after. If you look at North Carolina, it had incredible growth because it had the workforce in the biomedical field. They decided to go after it. It was more than just saying, “we’re going to have a research park.” That was kind of the first concept and they got a lot of attention and they built it in the late 1950s. But it’s more than that. It was more than just saying, “we’re going to go after it.” It was looking for how we target and focus that next breakthrough. We don’t have the answers, we don’t know what that next breakthrough is, but we need a concerted effort. … It’s keeping the conversation going.
Q. Talk about the breakthrough with the automotive industry.
A. Twelve years ago, we weren’t even on the radar screen with automotive manufacturing. We weren’t there. We had a lot of suppliers, mostly for American automakers. We had a lot of wire harness manufacturers, but really none of the new-age manufacturing edge we have today. If you think about that, look at the breakthrough it has been with Nissan and Toyota. So how do we keep looking and scanning for the next opportunity? The breakthrough might just be the next big potential in automotive. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big new industry, it may be just how do we build on that; how do we keep the pressure up and get a third automobile plant?