By NEMS Daily Journal
Gray Swoope, a native of West Point, has been executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority since 2007. On Monday, Swoope, 49, was named the president of Enterprise Florida, based in Tallahassee. His MDA tenure ends March 18 and he begins his new job March 21. He answered these questions last week from Business Editor Dennis Seid:
Q: Looking at your tenure with MDA, what were your hopes and expectations coming in, and were you able to accomplish them?
A:As you know, I have always wanted to lead my home state in economic development since first starting this business in 1985. Coming into this position, I may have underestimated the volume of activity this office handles and surely could not have anticipated Katrina, global recession and a major oil spill in the Gulf. But in the end we stayed focused and celebrated many successes. We have won highly competitive projects such as Toyota and PACCAR in this region. We also have elevated Mississippi on the international stage … and we have built strategic partnerships like no other state.
We have accomplished much – 46,000 jobs announced and $12 billion in investment at the end of last year. But the job is never finished. Strategic investments made will serve this state well as our nation recovers from this long recession. I will never have a full sense of accomplishment until everyone who wants a job can have a job.
Q: What advice would you give for the next MDA chief, as well as the staff he or she inherits?
A: First, the MDA staff is both passionate and professional. They know their stuff. I would encourage the new leadership to listen and make sure the divisions continue to communicate with one another.
Secondly, I would advise the new leadership not to forget the professional economic developers in the communities. Often they are forgotten. I find this strange since the local economic developers practice this business day in and day out and then are sometimes not called upon for expertise and feedback.
Q:Knowing what you do about Mississippi’s recruitment efforts, will that give you a leg up as you go to work for Florida?
A: Absolutely. Florida is a very different market and really does not compete head to head with Mississippi. Much of Mississippi’s success can be attributed to putting a competitive economic development structure in place. The principles to do this elsewhere are the same. Gov. Rick Scott, like Gov. Barbour, has made economic development and job creation his top priority. My job will be to build a team that can support this priority.
The key to successful economic development is much like sales – follow-up is critical. I love the book “Customers for Life” by Carl Sewell. Two key principles from this book which I will use again are “systems, not smiles” and “first impressions matter.” These might seem clichampé, but they are essential.
The principles are the same whether in Mississippi or Florida or any other state that wants to be successful.