State business climate praised and challenged

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By Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mississippi’s high entrepreneurial spirit and business climate have generated national attention, but negative perceptions of the Hospitality State remain a tough barrier in attracting outside businesses, two experts said Friday.

John Brandon, bureau manager of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Entrepreneur Center, and Tupelo-based C. Kelly Cofer, president and CEO of The Retail Coach, talked about the state’s business climate and keys to attracting more retail shopping during the Community Development Foundation’s “Wake Up! Tupelo and Lee County” program on business development trends.

COFER

COFER

Cofer, a consultant who works with communities in 25 states to recruit national retailers, said recruitment of high-demand retail businesses has followed the trend in industry recruitment to use economic incentives. For retail projects, this includes sales tax abatements and tax increment financing.

Asked about Mississippi’s potential for drawing national retailers, Cofer said the state must work to change perceptions.

“In all honesty, I think Mississippi is viewed as a risky investment,” he said. “The negative perception of Mississippi is absolutely real.”

Offering a brighter side for business in the state, Brandon said Mississippi’s 6,060 new jobs and $1 billion in corporate investments created this year more than double numbers from a year ago. Many large single projects, such as Yokohama Tire Corp.’s investment in West Point that could create up to 2,000 jobs, draw big headlines. However, small businesses also help drive local economies, Brandon said.

Mississippi received positive national rankings for small business activity, including the Kauffman Foundation placing the state fifth in the nation in entrepreneurial activity for 2012.

He said more small businesses in the state should think beyond state and even national borders to find customers.

“If we want to compete in the global marketplace, we’ve got to embrace new technology and make it work for us,” Brandon said.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com