Business panel: Position yourselves for the turnaround

PONTOTOC – Economic developers and cities need to use the current slowdown to position themselves for growth when the economy picks up, said a business panel Monday night.
The second Business After Hours event by the Pontotoc Chamber of Commerce featured a panel comprised of Joseph Geddie, executive director of the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association; Tim Weston, field operations manager for the Tennessee Valley Authority; James Threadgill, vice chairman at BancorpSouth; and Jeremy Martin, the North Mississippi service coordinator for the Secretary of State’s office.
The four panelists gave their take on having “confidence in times like these,” the topic of the event.
Geddie gave advice for what economic developers should be doing now.
“Hopefully, what you’ve always been doing,” he said with a laugh.
Among other things, he said they need to spend the downtime focusing on making sure the community has quality products and infrastructure that will draw companies when the economy turns around. He also said economic developers should set achievable short-term goals because people need “success stories more than ever.”
Weston talked about economic development trends he’s seen lately in TVA’s region. He said TVA this year is targeting existing industries and is trying to find out how to hold onto them. Weston also said TVA is looking to grow when companies consolidate plants by persuading them to relocate operations to TVA’s region.
“There’s a lack of new development,” he said. “If you’re not seeing much in Pontotoc County, don’t worry because we’re not seeing a lot anywhere.”
And he said the trend with the projects he is seeing is they require expensive infrastructure improvements and don’t bring a lot of jobs.
“Economic development has always been expensive, but it’s getting more expensive,” he said.
Threadgill talked about the banking industry and the economy. He stressed that there is a difference between commercial banks and the investment banks that have been making headlines lately.
“Right now, your money is safe at any of the commercial banks in Mississippi – I’ll put it that way,” he said.
He also said BancorpSouth’s mortgage business is “booming.” The bank in the past four months has done $500 million in mortgage origination throughout its eight-state region. About 80 percent was refinancing.
He added that he hasn’t seen a problem with people bailing on loans, either.
“Historically, when Mississippians make an obligation, they have a tendency to pay it back,” Threadgill said. “We’re fortunate to have people with good strong morals.”
Martin backed up Threadgill’s comments, saying that Mississippi is “far more stable than our neighboring states” in terms of the state government budget and its rainy day fund.
“Even though we are not immune to the global recession and national hard times, Mississippi is doing quite well,” he said.
“The businesses you see closing are businesses that had problems when times were good,” Martin said. “If you are a business owner [right now], your job is to do the small things well.”

Carlie Kollath/Daily Journal