Ole Miss hosts rural economic forum

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Government and non-government help, financing and financial education and early exposure to self-employment were touted Thursday as keys to entrepreneurial economic development at a White House Rural Economic Forum, hosted at the University of Mississippi.
Ari Matusiak of the White House Business Council said President Barack Obama has urged economic-development staffers to “get out of Washington and engage with entrepreneurs” to learn their perspectives on “what we could do more of – and, in some cases, less of.”
In addition to offering resource information and networking opportunities, the White House forum offered defenses of administration positions.
“The president talks a lot about an economy where everyone does their fair share and where everyone plays by the same rules,” Matusiak said. “There are things we can do to move this economy forward.”
In addition to focusing on education, infrastructure and research, he said, “We can invest in new forms of energy … doing so in a way that unlocks new jobs and opportunities.”
“I think there is a time and a place for programs that support the private sector from the government,” said Jeanne Hulit of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“Reagan did a lot of good things, but he did a disservice by saying government is the problem,” said Bill Bynum of Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Community Credit Union.
Panel discussions included entrepreneurs, economic development officials and non-governmental organization representatives.
Bill Crump of Viking Range said one reward of entrepreneurship is changing communities.
“A lot of people who started 25 years ago with Viking Range were from families who were on welfare,” he said. “They have bought homes, they sent their children to college, they have 401ks.”
Thomas Darnell of BancorpSouth countered an accusation from one attendee that “banks aren’t lending anymore” by noting his company’s $8 billion in loans and the 65 percent of its revenue stream that comes from interest income.
Several speakers asserted that while many sources of grants, loans and investment capital – not to mention information and technical assistance – exist, finding the right one can be difficult.
“One of our goals at MDA is to be that provider to link everyone together,” said John Brandon of Mississippi Development Authority.
Randy Kelley, CEO of Three Rivers Planning and Development District, added, “We’re doing one thing – building bridges in the community and the region and the state and the nation to help entrepreneurs.”
Nearly 30 agencies, nongovernmental organizations and businesses offered their services at the forum’s resource expo.
errol.castens@journalinc.com