By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Despite some concerns that the state’s economic growth continues to lag, attendees at Tuesday’s Northeast Mississippi Economic Forecast Conference heard more promising talk.
And the speakers let the numbers do much of the talking.
First, recently named Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson touted the TVA’s economic development efforts, noting that some 250,000 jobs have been created or retained, and about $5.9 billion invested, in the past five years.
TVA provides electricity, waterway navigation, flood control and economic development in seven states.
David Copenhaver, the chairman of the Community Development Foundation, said 400 jobs were created in Lee County last year, representing about $25 million in investment.
“Almost all of our job creation has been from existing industry, and you really can’t have anything more complimentary about a community,” he said. “It’s always great to welcome a new company, don’t get me wrong, but it’s even better to grow what you have.”
The CDF also is building a $750,000, 75,000-square-foot shell building – or spec building – in the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South, he said. The facility should be ready by the second half of this year.
In addition, Copenhaver noted the Renasant Center for IDEAs business incubator has graduated 15 tenants since 2006, creating 369 jobs. He also noted that the center started 2012 with 18 tenants and it now has 24.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Brent Christensen admitted the state’s economy was “slow but growing.”
But, he added, “we’re starting to see an acceleration” in the economy.
“The last half of 2012 saw an acceleration in job growth,” he said. “Already 750 new jobs have been announced this January.”
MDA, the state’s main economic development arm, helped create 2,674 new jobs and retained another 400. That activity represented about $500 million investment, Christensen said.
But he said Mississippi must continue to have the proper tools in its toolbox to continue recruiting new industry and helping its existing businesses expand.
After an analysis of the programs that have helped those processes the most, Christensen said MDA is asking for a $35 million bond bill to help refill the coffers.
“We’ve quantified it, we’ve measured it and we’ve shown the results,” he said. “We didn’t just pull a number out of the air.”
In addition, Christensen said the state’s return on investment has been exemplary.
“It’s a 10 to 1 return on every dollar invested in the past five years,” he said. “That means for every dollar we’ve invested, we’ve seen a return of $10.”
The Legislature balked at passing additional bond bills last year, but Christensen said he hopes it will consider not only the return on investment of those dollars, but what neighboring states are doing.
For example, Alabama voters last fall, by an overwhelming margin, voted to expand the state’s bonding capacity by another $130 million for economic development. Louisiana also has upped its game, and those efforts have brought several billion dollars and thousands of jobs there.
“It’s very competitive,” he said.