By NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi’s new economic development chief, Brent Christensen, brings to the Mississippi Development Authority’s top executive position a record, methods and professional relationships familiar to many in our state’s development community because this is where his career started.
His first boss in economic development was David Rumbarger, who now heads the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo.
Christensen has been at the helm of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, the northern Florida university city (and surrounding Alachuwa County) that has for two decades earned national recognition for its quality of life, workforce skills, exceptional public schools, aggressive economic development strategies, high educational attainment level and its relationship with the flagship University of Florida.
Notably, the University of Florida has been ranked the top public university for transferring research discoveries to the marketplace, a goal sought by civic and political leadership for Mississippi’s research universities to a greater degree than ever. UF TechConnect, whose mission is creating companies and jobs with the knowledge its faculty, students and researchers nurture, has generated more than $500 million in private investment and created more than 500 high tech jobs in the past seven years, the Gainesville chamber’s website reports.
What Gainesville is doing and has done is an almost perfect interface with Mississippi’s statewide economic goals, and the methods described on the Gainesville chamber’s website look strikingly like the focus of Tupelo’s Community Development Foundation and the Mississippi Economic Council.
MEC President Blake Wilson said Wednesday that Christensen brings to the position the high-energy perspective of a “vibrant university-driven economy. This is like the planets have aligned in just the right way at the right moment in Brent’s career and with our goals here in Mississippi. How fortunate it is that we have hired a man who started in Mississippi and now returns. We prepared Gray Swoope (former MDA chief) to take the top position for the state of Florida, and now we have gotten Brent Christensen for the top job here.”
Wilson said he believes Mississippi’s highly motivated economic development aspirations and plans are a strong match for Christensen’s experience and skills.
“I think he will be delightfully surprised by the energy he finds here in Mississippi,” Wilson, a former Florida developer himself, said.
The recession and lingering sluggish economy dealt Mississippi some hard blows in unemployment and job losses.
Christensen comes from a state that also was hit hard, but he also hails from a county and city that have made a strong rebound.
We hope the new professional tie creates the chemistry of enduring prosperity for Mississippi.