But there was encouraging confidence expressed by existing businesses and industries in workforce and facilities expansion – the kind of growth many job-creators and business leaders believe is the best because it endorses what’s already been invested.
David Copenhaver, CDF’s chairman and the just-retired vice president of Toyota in Mississippi, said Lee County gained 250 new jobs on $25 million in new investments and encouragingly dropped unemployment to 8.5 percent. The jobless rate isn’t as low as the 4.6 percent in 2001, he noted, but jobs should increase as CDF and its community partners create a better-educated, more flexible workforce. Itawamba Community College’s collaborative partnerships and the planned Wellspring Center for enhanced high school education and training are key elements.
Copenhaver also candidly discussed turndowns of Tupelo/Lee County site selections because no buildings of the right type were available. He reported that CDF’s response, building a 75,000-square-foot. facility in Tupelo-Lee Industrial Park South is expected to answer that need by summer this year. Adapting to marketplace changes is obviously a smart move, and the new building, it is reasonable to assume, will be occupied by a new employer sometime in the shorter-term future.
Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Brent Cristensen similarly described the need for his agency to maintain at least level funding in the face of threatened legislative cuts and to add bonding authority specifically for economic development needs, as has Alabama. In MDA’s situation the competition is never internal, it’s all about neighboring/competing states like Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee, and Southern states beyond the “border” area.
If states aren’t equipped to respond quickly to opportunities as they present themselves, prospects will move on, as has been the case with potential employers checking Lee County off their lists.
Education in the workforce, available sites and appropriate incentives remain keys to growth, but the marketplace is not static and flexibility for action is increasingly important.