Six local businesspeople representing Marion County recently attended leadership training with the Mississippi Development Authority in Jackson.
Last week, Lori Watts, Rene Dungan, Adam Prestridge, Donovan McComb, Calvin Newsom and Nik Ingram represented the county at the MDA's Ambassador meeting, held at the Woolfolk Building in Jackson.
"The program invites counties across the three regions of Mississippi divided by the electric utilities." Watts explained. "Marion was only one of nine counties represented in the group. The three groups include Mississippi Power, Entergy and the TVA. There were three counties from each."
Watts said receiving the invitation was an honor for Marion County.
"They invite the counties that they (MDA) see community members that are working hard to make improvements and make progress and affect change and move forword in their communities," she said. "They also select groups who can benefit from an extra bit of training for leaders to bring home. They like to say that it is a boost up."
The representatives from Marion County will now use the tools they gained to help in future planning and promotion of Marion County, according to Watts.
"We will be charged with developing and completing some sort of community development of economic development project," she said. "The group will be choosing that, but MDA also has input as to what it will look like. It's all preliminary now."
Attendees participated in a variety of sessions designed to assist them in helping the county's economic development from exploring economic development assets to examining competitive communities.
"The focus for this session was economic development, particularly," she said. "Economic development encompasses a lot of things. It encompasses a number of things from workforce development to community development. This focused on economic development, particularly as it applies to economic development offices' relationships with industry. This session was about industrial attraction, like we participate in on a regular basis when we are promoting the county to companies who are not here already as a place that they might want to come. It also encompasses existing industry through retention and expansion because most jobs come from the growth of industries already here. The coming of a new plant grabs headlines, but most of the new jobs in a community come from companies that are already located there."
The Marion County group, a diverse group of community and business leaders representing different facets of the community, ranges from Main Street Columbia, Inc., to the Marion County Board of Supervisors.
"We wanted to pull people from diverse areas of the community who are involved in different aspects of the leadership in our community," Watts said. "We will be meeting in several follow-ups, including two more sessions with the state. We will also be meeting ourselves to make plans."
Watts said some of the characteristics of successful communities are related to the preparations made by the community.
"These are things done prior to the attracting industry," she said. "Things like preparing industrial sites and properties so that industry can come in and know that they can locate somewhere. They aren't going to have to wait three years for the property to be cleared and site work to be done. It is like the site work we did for our industrial park. Almost all of the presenters touched on the fact that a prepared community, a community that takes proactive steps for attraction of industry is one that attracts industry. Those are important steps that a community must take in order to put itself in a position to attract industry."
The benefits are long-term, according to Watts.
"As leaders work together to ensure that the county is prepared, others will see that," she said. "We will be more likely to be successful when companies come looking or when we ask them to look."
Marion County has been chosen to host the next session of the workshop in May.
"The folks that we were with this past week will come to visit us in Columbia," she said. "We will be looking at workforce development in that session. There is a huge push for Mississippi to become more competitive in workforce development. We have a great community college system that is just right for preparing people to have the skills that advanced manufacturing, ship building and aerospace companies need. We are continually working to better prepare our workforce. That will be a great session for us to have."
The program is slated for completion in October, according to Watts.
"Whatever project we undertake will be complete sometime in 2018," she concluded.
Pictured Above: The MDA Ambassadors hope to attract businesses and industries to Marion County. | File Photo
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