Thoughts on South Mississippi’s seeking “fairness and parity” in economic development.

February 13, 2012

According to a February 2, 2012  article in the SunHerald there is an effort to make sure that, “it is imperative that any economic development strategy for the state of Mississippi, including but not limited to, the choice for (MDA) executive director, prioritize the continued economic growth of the South Mississippi region.”  Governor Phil Bryant responded as follows:

“What I would love to see more of in South Mississippi is manufacturing,” Bryant said. “Tourism is doing great, but we could use more manufacturing. And we are reviewing the port to see if there are things we can do to help jump-start things there … I agree, we need to concentrate more on South Mississippi and the Gulf Coast, and if that’s not being done, then I want to know why.”

An article published on February 7, 2012 in the Natchez Democrat reports that, “A coalition of southern counties has formed to lobby for industry to come south, and (Representative Melanie) Sojourner said the group wants a representative from every county present at a press conference Feb. 13 to show unified support for the cause.”  The article went on to say:

Meanwhile, the Mississippi Development Authority is soon to hire a new director, and Sojourner said the northern portion of the state has a candidate they want. The southern part of the state would be at a disadvantage if they had no say in the selection, she said.  The supervisors adopted a resolution stating they would work together with other southern counties for economic development, and pledged their support for the cause.

What is ironic about the Natchez Democrat article is that it also reports that the Board of Supervisors were asked to adopt a resolution “… saying they would work with neighboring counties for the greater economic good.”

I confess that this issue left me wondering about really “working for the greater economic good.”  I understand the motives of the parties involved, and from their perspective their actions are admirable.  They look at north Mississippi and see big projects going there and wonder why their region does not see similar projects.  They now merely want to see that the Governor and the legislature are aware of that. It’s hard to question that.

Yet they may have unwittingly fallen into the trap of turfism while saying that they want to avoid turfism.   By the way, in a blog post by the Oral Health Coalitions of America (pardon the pun) “Turf-ism” is defined by Peck and Hague as the non-cooperation or conflict between organizations with seemingly common goals or interests. Issues of turf are typically best understood through a ‘battle’ metaphor where two sides are vying for control and ownership but only one can be victorious.

Turfism is quite common, and the above issue illustrates that it can become quite hypocritical.  Local loaders want to work with an adjoining county, region, state or even nation when they know that it can benefit them.  But if there is a perception that there is no – or less – benefit to them then attention must be drawn to that fact to higher leaders.  Individual states seem to be always telling Washington that they” just want their fair share.”  Unfortunately, major economic development projects do not work that way.  It is the prospect/client who determines where a project will be located based on the needs of that prospect/client, not the needs of local communities.  The Mississippi Development Authority does not have the option to spread projects around so that communities get their “fair share.”

Finally, it does not matter where the Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority(MDA) is from. He or she is to work for the good of the entire state.  And just for the record, the head of the MDA under former Governor Haley Barbour’s administration was previously the head of the economic development agency in Hattiesburg, which is located in south Mississippi.

It should be an interesting press conference today.

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