11 Things I’ve Learned About Economic Development

11 Things I’ve Learned about Economic Development

During my still active career in economic and community development, I’ve learned quite a few things. Some, but not all, are listed below. These are just the first ones that came to mind. 

1. Economic development is all about jobs.Even though the textbook definition of the term is, “… the process of increasing the economic wealth of a community,” almost all economic developers see their role as doing that by creating, increasing and retaining jobs. The press releases and the websites tout number of jobs created more than just about anything else. That’s because jobs, especially good paying jobs drive most economies. A job not only brings money to a community, but it also provides self-worth and security to individuals. 

2. Communities and organizations are perfectly structured for the outcomes they are getting. Many community leaders seem to be waiting for something to happen to their communities before making adjustments. For example, they hope that the state will bring a project or that some company will discover them. If that’s true, then nothing is going to change unless the structures are changed. That could mean a change in leadership, procedure or organization. Something that is very difficult to do because it often means that someone has to give up something.

3. Leadership really matters.Indeed, it seems to be the one thing that differentiates the communities that thrive versus those that do not.

4. Accountability is one of the keys to economic development success.  I have facilitated dozens of strategic planning retreats. Often, I go back to the organization six months or a year later and ask about the outcomes. What I usually found is that almost all the goals were achieved or very few or none were achieved. Why such a big difference? What I discovered is that the goals that were most often achieved were the ones where someone was held accountable. 

5. Measuring things is very important.The six Total Quality Management concepts are customer focus, leadership, teamwork, continuous improvement, measurement and benchmarking. Although each is important, it begins with measurement. If economic development is the process of increasing the wealth of a community then wealth should be measured. But which wealth metrics?  Employment statistics, sales tax collections and property values are just three things that should be measured. Assessed valuation of real property can be tricky to measure if there’s a lot of off-the-books property such as government and other exempt real estate. I recommend the model used by the Commission on the future of Northeast Mississippi.  Each year the 17 counties in the region meet to share a variety of measurements. “These findings are used to produce the annual State of the Region report and to set annual goals to measure our successes,” states their purpose.

6. Successful economic developers know that it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. Have you noticed that at those groundbreaking ceremonies it is the economic developers who are in the background? Good economic developers know that they are facilitators of the process and that others, usually elected officials, who have a critical role.

7. Partnerships and collaboration are essential.Just take a look at any successful economic development project.

8. Economic development is long-term and incremental. There are no magic bullets. 

9. It’s a lot about location, location, location.Did you know that over half of all jobs in Mississippi are in only 11 counties? According to the October 2018 Mississippi Department of Employment Security Labor Market Report, there were 1,219,300 persons employed in the state. Divide that by two and the result is 609,650. If one then adds the number of jobs in each county beginning with the county with the most jobs (Hinds – 105,990, when the 11th county (Lafayette – 26,820) is added the result is 611,840. By the way, some of my heroes in economic development are those who work in poor, lowly populated counties that have very little chance of ever landing a big project. In one sense, they do more with what they have than others in urban areas where interstate highways intersect. 

10. Connections are important. Successful economic developers go to conferences and events. They know each other, they know site selectors and they stay up-to-date on everything related to their profession.

11. Successful communities visit other cities and regions to see how it can be done. Taking a group of business and community leaders to a successful city or region can be inspirational and provide a good roadmap for the future. Unfortunately, one mistake that some make is to attempt to recreate the other city instead of using their own unique asset.

What Amazon is promised from New York and Virginia

When I review the news articles about Amazon’s courting and selection of cities and states for its new headquarters – excuse me – two headquarters, I can’t help but think of the Meat Loaf song, “I’d do anything for love, (But I won’t do that).” Appropriately, it’s from the Bat Out of Hell album. Anyway, for those of you who are still attempting to make sense out of what has been offered to Amazon, I offer the following from the Wall Street Journal.

From New York state: $1.525 billion, including: $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits; $325 million from Empire State Development.

From New York City: Amazon said it would apply for a New York City subsidy program providing property-tax abatements for up to 25 years. Also the company is to seek incentives that could provide $3,000 in tax credits per eligible employee over 12 years.

From Virginia: $550 million cash grant. Amazon may be able to claim up to $200 million funds based on future job creation.$23 million in cash over 15 years based on growth of the county hotel tax.

From Arlington: $23 million in cash over 15 years.

Source: https://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2018/11/14/the-morning-download-zero-knowledge-tech-catches-jpmorgans-attention/

Coaches Salaries, Columbaria and Convergence

The biggest college football story of 2018 might not be about which team was the national champion, but how many NCAA football coaches received over $5 million, and where the money will come from to pay those relatively stratospheric salaries. Not to worry, the market has a way of sorting out these things. But just in case, I had a “convergence” experience that may be of interest to the collegiate fundraisers.

Those who are in the business of raising or donating money to college football programs have seen the price of admission go up substantially in the past several years. According to USA Today’s 2018 NCAA Salaries webpage (http://sports.usatoday.com/ncaa/salaries), 13 football coaches earn total pay of at least $5 million this year. Not surprisingly, Alabama’s Nick Sabin tops the list at $8,307,00, followed by Ohio State’s Urban Meyer at $7,600,00, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh at $7,504,000. At number seven on the list is Clemson’s Dabo Swinney at $6,543,350. Georgia’s Kirby Smart comes in at number 6 with $6,603,500. It’s not difficult to see the connection between pay and gridiron success. Assistant coaches’ salaries at some top schools are now in the quarter of a million dollar range. So what are the money raisers to do?

A few weeks ago, while reading an article on this subject, a mysterious – some would say miraculous – thing happened. I looked up from what I was reading to see a television program about a certain, legendary national Division I-A football team. The show pointed out that some of the supporters of the football program were so fanatical that dozens of them had their ashes secretly spread on the field after their deaths. Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from my church about its new columbarium program. Hmmm. Convergence had occurred.

Convergence is a term that gets used a lot in business publications. It means that things are approaching each other or coming together. Think of it as a junction where things meet at the same place at the same time. The business world is especially interested in convergences that result in new products or services or a new way of doing things. For example, cell phone and e-mail technology coming together, or high oil prices and ethanol. In the advertising world there is a clever ad about how chocolate and peanut butter accidentally “converged” to create Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ®. What’s converging in this case is the acceptance of the columbarium as a final resting place and the desire to “spend eternity” at one’s favorite college or university. 

A columbarium is a structure with recessed cavities, or niches, for storage of ashes of those who have died and been cremated. Cremation is becoming increasingly accepted in the United States. The Cremation Association of North America reported that in 2017, the US cremation rate was 51.6%. In 2000 the cremation rate was approximately 26 percent. Mississippi had the lowest creation rate in 2017 at 22.5%, while Washington, Nevada and Oregon had rates just over 75%. 

Several schools have already gotten into the columbarium act. In November 2007, The Citadel dedicated a columbarium at the base of the school’s bell tower so that those whose ashes are enshrined therein will be “Alumni Forever.”  There are 403 niches, each of which can contain two urns. In 2002 the University of Richmond completed construction of a columbarium with 3,000 niches. Notre Dame recently completed two mausoleums containing over 1,000 crypts. 

There are others, but this writer could not find any that are specifically marketed to rabid sports fans. Oops, allow an amendment to that statement. A South Carolina real estate developer purchased land across from the University of South Carolina’s William-Brice Stadium to build an above-ground monument to hold cremains of Gamecock fans who have passed away. At the proposed site there would be three 8-foot-tall monuments holding 2,400 spaces, or niches, for funeral urns and be in the shape of the letters U-S-C. The black marble letters would have lighting on top. Niches would cost between $5,000 and $10,000. The project received local government approval, but has had backlash from university officials and some members of the public.

Alumni loyalty is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to sports and logos. A Wall Street Journal article way back in 2002 reported that about 50 schools license their emblems to a casket maker who sells caskets and urns with the school emblem emblazoned thereon. Yes, the school gets a percentage.

Now imagine a family weekend on campus where the loved ones check into the alumni house or a local motel, visit the columbarium that contains the ashes of their dear departed, attend a tailgate party and then go cheer the football team on to victory. 

So where am I going with all this?

Answer:  To the end zone. 

That’s right, the end zone, or at least a few feet behind it. Imagine a columbarium right behind the end zone where alumni and fans could have their final resting places almost on the field of play. The universities would charge a hefty initial price and an annual maintenance fee. The income would be designated towards paying the salary of the football coach.

I know a few alums who would not have it any other way when they pass on.




Our plane landed on schedule at Iceland’s modern Keflavik International Airport. It was in early afternoon on a midsummer’s day. The weather was cloudy; the temperature in the upper 50’s. Unlike most countries my wife and I have visited there was no customs check-in. We simply picked up or bags and caught our pre-arranged bus to downtown Reykjavik, which is some 39 miles away. We had arrived at a place that has become the darling of international travel. Because of Iceland’s current image as a travel destination my wife and I tacked it on to a recent international trip. What we found was a fascinating landscape, a rapidly evolving capital city, friendly people and expensive food and lodging. Let’s begin with some background information about the country.

Iceland is hot.

Its economy is on the upswing, tourism is increasing, population is growing and its people are happy. All these changes are combining to change the perception of the country and to make it the latest “in” place to visit. And of course, being a volcanic island it is also literally hot.

Nevertheless, all things are not rosy. There is some worry that the economy is overheating and that there is a doctor shortage. Also, being a small country, it is subject to a lot of volatility in more ways than one. Consequently, a concern 10 years ago may not be a concern today, and vice-versa. When doing Internet research, it is wise to look at the date of the article.

Iceland’s economy is growing. Its current Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is $24 billion, up 7.5% over 2016. That was helped by low oil prices and high fish prices in international markets. By contrast, Mississippi’s 2017 GDP was $96.82 billion. Tourism has taken over seafood as the major driver of Iceland’s economy. One estimate has it contributing to just over 50% of GDP growth. Visitors spent a total of $4.68 billion on accommodations, tours, meals, and transportation associated with domestic travel in 2017. According to the Icelandic Tourism Board, in 2010 the number of visitors was 488,600. In 2016, that climbed to 1,792,000, which is an annual growth rate during that period of 24.4%.

Iceland’s population grew by 10,101 in 2017, according to a new report from Statistics Iceland. The total population on January 1st, 2018 was 348,450, a 3.0 % increase from the previous year. The highest rate of population growth was in the Reykjavik peninsula, which grew by 1,777 people or 7.4 %. The Reykjavík capital region experienced a population growth of 2.6 % (5,606 persons). No regions of the country experienced population decline.

Now that I’ve set the stage, allow me to share a bit of travelogue from that recent visit to Iceland. Some things you need to know before heading o to Iceland. First, you will most certainly land in Keflavik Airport. Transportation to downtown varies widely. Costs can range from free hotel shuttle to $120 for a taxi. We took the Flybus for $48, and it took us to within a block and a half from the AirBnb apartment we rented. Decent hotels run from $200 and up per night. Restaurants are also expensive. Expect to pay $30 and up for a meal. A beer will cost you around $10.

When taking my first shower in our apartment I noticed a slightly funny smell when I turned on the hot water faucet. Sort of like a sulfuric odor. Turns out that the hot water is provided by geothermal heating, which meets the requirements of 87 % of all buildings in Iceland. It also has a slight amount of hydrogen sulfide. But don’t worry, a person does not smell like sulfur after taking a shower or bath.

The cold water faucet is a different story. It supplies cold water, which is among the coldest and purest in the world. No need to buy bottled water in Iceland.

Without a doubt, every visitor to Iceland should take what is known as the Golden Circle Tour, which is a 190 mile route to three or four of the most unique places on the planet. My favorite three were Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss waterfall and the Geyser geothermal area. We took the day-long tour in a minibus with eight other people. Cost was $88 per person.

Thingvellir National Park is the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are drifting apart at an average of one inch per year. Absolutely fascinating. Expect to see lots of tourists and sightseers there and all the other Golden Circle stops. Nearby is the largest lake in Iceland. Also nearby is the site of the first national parliament of Iceland, which was established at the site in 930 AD, making it the oldest Parliament in the world.

There are over 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland, but Gullfoss is probably the most famous because of its beauty, power and accessibility. It is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull.

The Geysir geothermal area is where one can hear the bubbling of the mud pots, smell the sulfur in the air and watch in awe as the geyser Strokkur blasts boiling water into the air.

Many Golden Circle tour operators also include the famous Blue Lagoon or the Secret Lagoon.

What I have described is in the southern part of Iceland. The northern part is where the landscape is so rugged and glacial that is the scene of many movies that depict other worlds. The Star Wars Sagas and HBO’s Game of Thrones are among many movies and television shows that have been filmed in Iceland.

I could go on, but I’m out of space. I’ll close with what I suspect is a misconception about Iceland. The other day I heard someone say that businesses were moving out of Iceland, that taxes were high and that it was so depressing there that it had the highest suicide rate in the world. Only one of those comments is true. Taxes are high. With an income tax of around 35 % and a value added tax of 15 % on many goods, the rate could get to 50 %. However, there is free medical care and free education, among other things. Now about that suicide rate. Iceland’s suicide rate comes in at number 65 on the World Health Organization rankings, while the United States ranks 48th.

Finally, the 2017 U.N. World Happiness Report ranks Iceland as the fourth happiest country in the world, and the 2018 Global Peace Index ranks Iceland as the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008.






JULY 21, 2018

The Winter Olympics and the World Cup have come and gone. We saw a lot a flags. Some are really beautiful, and some are really ugly. So what makes a great flag?

The answer to that question can be found in a great little booklet compiled by Ted Kaye and published by the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA). Here are the five basic principles to create an outstanding flag for your organization, city, tribe, company, family, neighborhood or even country:

1. Keep It Simple – the flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory;

2. Use Meaningful Symbolism – the flag’s images, colors or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes;

3. Use Two or Three Basic Colors – Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which will contrast well and come from the standard color set;

4. No Lettering or Seals – Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal; and

5. Be Distinctive or Be Related – Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

It may surprise some people, but quite a few cities in Mississippi have a flag. A first-time visitor to the annual conference of the Mississippi Municipal Association will see an opening ceremony featuring a parade of over two dozen flags. Jim McIntyre, owner of A Complete Flag Source in Jackson, Mississippi, says that a flag is a symbol of pride. He advocates more use of city flags by communities around the state, especially at entrances to cities and at every public building.

Under Mayor Kane Ditto’s administration, the City of Jackson went through a flag creation process featuring substantial community input and involvement. People submitted ideas and designs and a flag was adopted. It has a green background and features single vertical and horizontal white lines with a gold star in a blue circle at the intersection of the lines. The lines represent Jackson’s location at a major national crossroads, while the star symbolizes the city’s designation as the capital of the state. The flag was certainly successful from a design standpoint. It impressed the members of NAVA so much that in its 2004 American City Flags Survey Jackson’s flag placed 12thout of 150 flags. According to NAVA Web site, NAVA members preferred simple, brightly-colored, and distinctive flags; they scorned flags with complicated designs, city seals, or writing

Flag of Jackson, Mississippi

Symbolism is important to flag design. The booklet referred to above provides plenty of examples of proper and improper use of symbolism. Take Italy’s flag, for example. It has three vertical stripes – one green, one white and one red. The vertical orientation is just the opposite of many European flags, which have their stripes displayed horizontally. Italy’s flag design symbolizes a challenge to the ruling kingdoms of Europe. On the other end of the symbolism scale, Libya’s flag is solid green to symbolize Islam. It is so simple, according to Ted Kaye of NAVA, that it does not represent a country, and when shown in black and white it had no meaning.

One of the things to avoid in flag design is the use of writing or seals. South Dakota’s flag, which uses a seal and writing, is the example of a bad flag. The name of the state actually appears twice on the flag. South Carolina’s flag, which depicts a white crescent and a palmetto on a field of blue, is used to illustrate a good flag having no lettering or seals.

I cannot resist pointing out the Virginia state flag. The flag of the state that is “for lovers” has a woman warrior, with one breast exposed, standing with one foot on the on the shoulder of a male fallen warrior. The flag is on a field of dark blue and contains the seal of Virginia with the Latin motto “Sic Semper Tyrannis” – “Thus Always to Tyrants”. The two figures are acting out the meaning of the motto. Both are dressed as warriors. The woman, Virtue, represents Virginia. The man holding a scourge and chain shows that he is a tyrant. His fallen crown is nearby. It was adopted in 1776.

Flag of Virginia.svg

Finally, the flag of the United States of America is not only rich with symbolism in its design, it is one of the few – perhaps the only – flags in which the flag itself is the subject of the national anthem of the country. So here’s to the Star Spangled Banner.

Flag of the United States of America


Characteristics of Great Streets

Depending on the perspective, there are good streets and not-so-good streets.  And then there are great streets.  This writer has a bias toward streets that are canopied. In Mississippi, that means streets that have treetops over them. Some streets in Ocean Springs, Jackson and Laurel come to mind. This column is about great streets as defined by the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an organization whose stated purpose is to help people create and sustain public places that build community.

A street is generally defined as a public thoroughfare, usually paved, in a village or town, and usually includes adjacent sidewalks and buildings.  A street is different from a highway, which is defined as a roadway between two towns.  PPS sees streets as places.   Although the organization is obviously urban-oriented, as one can readily deduce from viewing its Web site at http://www.pps.org, my guess is that it would embrace the courthouse square of the South as a great place.  The reason is that the classic courthouse square scene is the place that brings the community together.  It is there that political rallies, arts and crafts sales and a variety of public events are held, all wrapped with commercial storefronts.

From this writer’s perspective a good street is one that achieves its purpose.  If a street is conceived as built as a major traffic artery, then it will probably have multiple lanes and limited access.  These type streets typically are located in commercial areas.  Sometimes rapid growth can result in four-lane traffic arteries running right through residential areas.  Such would then be an example of a less than desirable street.

PPS has identified the following ten qualities that contribute to the success of great streets:

  • Attractions & Destinations. Having something to do gives people a reason to come to a place—and to return again and again. When there is nothing to do, a space will remain empty, which can lead to other problems. In planning attractions and destinations, it is important to consider a wide range of activities for: men and women; people of different ages; different times of day, week and year; and for people alone and in groups.
  • Identity & Image. Whether a space has a good image and identity is key to its success. Creating a positive image requires keeping a place clean and well-maintained, as well as fostering a sense of identity. This identity can originate in showcasing local assets. Businesses, pedestrians, and driver will then elevate their behavior to this vision and sense of place.
  • Active Edge Uses. Buildings bases should be human-scaled and allow for interaction between indoors and out. Preferably, there are active ground floor uses that create valuable experiences along a street for both pedestrians and motorists. These edge uses should be active year-round and unite both sides of the street.
  • Amenities. Successful streets provide amenities to support a variety of activities. These include attractive waste receptacles to maintain cleanliness, street lighting to enhance safety, bicycle racks, and both private and public seating options—the importance of giving people the choice to sit where they want is generally underestimated. Cluster street amenities to support their use.
  • Management. An active entity that manages the space is central to a street’s success. This requires not only keeping the space clean and safe, but also managing tenants and programming the space to generate daily activity. Events can run the gamut from small street performances to sidewalk sales to cultural, civic or seasonal celebrations.
  • Seasonal Strategies. In places without a strong management presence or variety of activities, it is often difficult to attract people year-round. Utilize seasonal strategies, like holiday markets, parades and recreational activities to activate the street during all times of the year. If a street offers a unique and attractive experience, weather is often less of a factor than people initially assume.
  • Diverse User Groups. As mentioned previously, it is essential to provide activities for different groups. Mixing people of different race, gender, age, and income level ensures that no one group dominates the space and makes others feel unwelcome and out of place.
  • Traffic, Transit & the Pedestrian. A successful street is easy to get to and get through; it is visible both from a distance and up close. Automobile traffic cannot dominate the space and preclude the comfort of other modes. This is generally accomplished by slowing speeds and sharing street space with a range of transportation options.
  • Blending of Uses and Modes. Ground floor uses and retail activities should spill out into the sidewalks and streets to blur the distinction between public and private space.
  • Protects Neighborhoods. Great streets support the context around them. There should be clear transitions from commercial streets to nearby residential neighborhoods, communicating a change in surroundings with a concomitant change in street character.

There you have it.  Now, where are the great streets in your community?


House not selling? Try St. Joseph

FROM THE GROUND UP by Phil Hardwick

Spring is the best time of year to sell a house. But what if the house still isn’t selling after springtime? The seller could lower the price, increase marketing efforts or maybe call on St. Joseph.

Does planting an upside down statuette in your front yard increase the odds that your house will sell sooner than later? If it is a statuette of St. Joseph the answer is “yes,” according to quite a few people.

The dream of just about every seller of real estate is to sell the property for the listed price within twenty-four hours of it being listed. Every seller wants to get top dollar for their real estate. After that desire comes the wish to sell the property fast. Some markets are so hot that listing agents have prospective buyers already signed up before the agents even get certain listings. Then there are markets where properties are on the market for months at a time. Sellers in such situations may want to investigate the possibility of turning to St. Joseph, patron saint of home life.

What is a patron saint?  And anyway, who is St. Joseph?

This inquiring mind went straight to the catholic.org web site to learn more.  According the web site, patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life. These areas can include occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes — anything that is important to people. Although, popes have named patron saints, patrons can be chosen by other individuals or groups as well. Usually, patron saints are chosen by individuals because an interest, talent, or event in their lives aligns with the special area.  For example, many people who travel often wear a St. Christopher medal because he is the patron saint of travelers.   For those really interested in the subject of patron saints, there is a web site that lists patron saints by topic and by name. It is online at


Why is St. Joseph the patron saint of real estate?  Well, the reasoning goes that because St. Joseph was a carpenter, he was also a homebuilder, i.e. he worked on homes. He also taught his son Jesus the carpentering trade.  He was also noted for his willingness to do what God told him.  He also was noted for acting fast, such as when he was told to immediately flee to Egypt.  As one might imagine, Joseph is the patron saint of a lot of things, from fathers to the diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi. Yes, many cities and states have patron saints. Mary is the patron saint of Mississippi.

There is even a book, ST. JOSEPH, MY REAL ESTATE AGENT – Why the Patron Saint of Home Life Is the Patron Saint of Home-Selling by Stephen J. Binz (Servant Books), that discusses the use of St. Joseph to sell one’s home.  “Hundreds of thousands of people, including the author, have sold their homes under the patronage of St. Joseph, whose intercession they sought after burying his statue in their yard,” according to the promotional material.

So, does this practice of burying St. Joseph in one’s front yard really work?  Far be it from me to say for certain.  Several years ago when I wrote a column on this subject I received several letters from people who swear by the practice.  One woman told me that her house had been on the market for months with no results.  The day after she buried a St. Joseph statuette, she received an offer. I also received a letter from another woman who said that it was the silliest thing she had ever heard, and she told her husband what he could do with the statuette when he suggested that they try using it to sell their house.  The Internet is filled with testimonials and articles pro and con on the practice.  Another Internet resource is https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/property-rites/which lists this subject.  Interestingly, it does not confirm or debunk this “urban legend,” but offers anecdotal stories and opinions.  Like all matters of faith, it about belief and prayer.  One source said that the praying is more important than the use of the statuette.

Whatever one might believe regarding this practice it probably would not hurt to follow the advice of most real estate agents when they recommend that it is also a good idea to price your property competitively, market it properly and keep it ready for prospective buyers to inspect it on a moment’s notice.













Should cities offer incentives to individuals?

Dear Mayor:
I’m writing to let you know that my spouse and I have recently decided to relocate to another community. We are in our mid-50’s and have income over $200,000 per year. We plan on buying a house in the city. It will be in the $600,000 range. We are in excellent health and have no children. We travel around the world presenting seminars to leading technology companies. We are considering doing two seminars per year in the city that we move to. These seminars will bring in approximately 100 business leaders for three days.

The city that we will move to will have the following attributes:

  • A first-class conference hotel;
  • Good medical facilities;
  • An airport with connections to an international airport;
  • A college or university within 30 miles; and
  • Ubiquitous high speed internet access.

If your city meets the above qualifications and you are interested in having us as residents, please forward the amount and type of your financial incentives by the deadline stated in the attached data sheet by close of business 90 days from today. We will consider your bid and that of other cities within 30 days of the deadline referenced above and let you know if we select your city.

Very truly yours,

Prospective Residents


Sounds pretty silly, doesn’t it? A high-income couple asking cities to offer them incentives to move there.

But wait. If you’re the mayor of a city that met the qualifications, wouldn’t you want these residents? They don’t have children that have to be educated in your schools. They don’t add much to required city services. The property taxes on their house will add to the city’s revenue. They will bring in visitors who will spend money and stay in hotels that probably have an additional tourism tax. Wouldn’t it be worth offering them something to move to your city?

Let’s say that you do want these residents and that you have a policy of offering incentives to individuals. How much would your incentive be?

Without going through the numbers, one way to determine such an incentive, as a minimum, would be to figure out what their contribution to the city’s revenue minus the city’s cost. If the number is positive, then determine a rate of return on the city’s offering, or investment. If the return on investment meets the city’s desired return, then the prospective residents could be offered that amount in incentives, which could be cash, reduced taxes for a certain period of time or maybe a requirement that they bring a certain about of hotel revenue from out-of-town visitors.

The reason this subject is on my mind right now is – you guessed it – Amazon’s procedure for selecting its second city headquarters, aka HQ2. It invited cities to bid on its final selection, or winner. It says on its website that it expects to “invest over $5 billion in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.” Amazon received 238 proposals from cities, some of which offered incentives in the billions. It then narrowed the list to 20 cities. Check out Amazon’s HQ2 webpage for more a list of the 20 cities and more information – https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=17044620011

The process has not without controversy. In a January 28, 2018 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Mayors, Say No to Amazon,” Richard Florida, professor at the University of Toronto and author of several books, including The Urban Crisis, writes:

“At heart the HQ2 competition is a ruse. Amazon without a doubt already has a very good idea of where it wants to put its new headquarters… If the mayors on Amazon’s short list want to stay true to their progressive roots, they should stand together instead of allowing Amazon to divide and conquer.”

The economic development incentives game has changed over the years.

Here’s the way it used to be when it came to economic development incentives: The company will locate a facility in the community if given the requested incentives.

Here’s the way it is now: The company invites several communities to offer incentives and the company will then decide where to locate the facility.

Meanwhile, back to the silly letter above. Mayor, before offering incentives, make sure that there will be a return on investment. Be careful when incentives are not justified.

Is there a case for incentives that do not meet this requirement? The answer is yes. If landing a facility that results in image improvement and long term benefits it may be worth it. One nearby state paid more per job than it would ever receive in benefits. However, it did so knowingly because its strategy was to land an international company that would improve the image of the state and lure other companies to the area. And it worked.

We talk a lot about these big projects, but let us not forget that sometimes one household at a time is rather good economic development for a community.

Just something to think about.


The ABCs of Economic Development for Small Towns

Mayors of just about all small towns are part-time individuals interested and willing to serve their communities. They do not get paid very much and most are not holders of college degrees in economic or community development. They learn quickly that there is a lot to learn about being the CEO of a small town.

One of the many resources for small town mayors to learn about economic development and other functions of local government is the Mississippi Municipal League, especially the League’s Annual Conference. There are dozens of educational opportunities for local officials at the event. One of the presentations that I make at the Conference is entitled “The ABC’s of Economic Development for Small Towns.”

After my most recent presentation a mayor of a small town pointed out that most mayors in Mississippi are not fortunate enough to attend the training because of lack of funds or because of scheduling conflicts. After all, most part-time mayors have other jobs. She also said that many business people would benefit from the presentation. So taking her que, here is an abbreviated version of the presentation for those unable to attend in person.

A  is for Asset-based economic development. Identify the assets in your community that you can capitalize on. These can range from natural interests to historic distinctions.

B is for Plan B. The best leaders are the ones who can manage Plan B. Many elected leaders go into office with big plans, only to find out that other priorities come first.

C is for CDBG, the Community Development Block Grant program. Administered by the Mississippi Development Authority, helps local units of government realize their potential by providing funds necessary to ensure basic community services, environmental quality and economic opportunities for their residents.

D is for Decisions, which tend to be data-driven or values-driven.

E is for Economy. What drives your town’s economy? Where does the money come from that comes into your community? Manufacturing? Tourism? Transfer payments? Out-of-towners passing through?

F is for Followers. You are the leader. Who’s following you – and what do they want?

G is for Goals, the mileposts along the highway to achieving the vision. Goals are SMART, the acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

H is for Heroes. Who is going to step forward when you need it the most?

I is for Incentives. Economic prospects are driven by location, workforce and incentives. In today’s economic development world incentives are more of a factor than ever.

J is for Jobs. Economic development is the process of increasing the wealth in your town through creation, recruitment and retention of JOBS.

K is for Keystone, the central, topmost stone of an arch (an essential part). Who or what is the keystone of your town? What’s holding it up, so to speak?

L is for Legacy. A lifetime of achievement is often reduced to one incident or program. What will be your legacy?

M is for Meetings, especially productive meetings – with board, with citizens, with developers and with prospects. Setting and controlling the agenda is controlling the meeting.

N is for Numbers, or measurements that will quantify your town’s progress. Decide what to things measure, and measure them regularly.

O is for Observation. “You can learn a lot by watching,” according to Yogi Berra. Stop looking for the answers you expect to find. Be objective.

P is for People, or demographics. Know and understand your people.

Q is for Quality. If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

R is for Responsibility. Most strategic plans fail because there is no accountability or responsibility. Hold people accountable.

S is for Story. What is your town’s story, and how can you capitalize on it?

T is for Taxes. Understand the source of taxes in your town and how they can be affected.

U is for Unique. What makes your town unique?

V is for Vision – your vision and your town’s vision. Are they the same?

W is for World View. How does globalization affect your town?

X  is for X-Ray. Have some outside expert look “into” your town.

Y is for Youth, the future of your town. What do they think about the future? Do you have a Mayor’s Youth Council?

Z is for Zeal, the synonym for passion. One big difference in towns that succeed and those that do not is passionate leadership.

Q & A with Knox Ross

It’s been a while since I had a chance to visit with former Pelahatchie Mayor Knox Ross so I reached out to him online. Here’s my interview with the personable and accomplished Ross.

  1. What are you doing these days?

I am completing an 11-month assignment as the CEO of the Coordinating and Development Corporation in Shreveport. The CDC is an economic development and workforce training organization that serves the ten parishes of Northwest Louisiana and coordinates efforts in Arkansas and Texas. Most of my time here has been spent restructuring the organization and placing it on firm financial footing for the future. I am returning to Mississippi after the end of my assignment here, but I will remain associated with the organization as a consultant for the next year. It has been a great experience to learn how other states and other local governments operate. It certainly makes me appreciate some things that Mississippi does better, but also makes me aware of areas for improvement.

I also spend a good bit of time doing my work with the Southern Rail Commission, principally promoting the reestablishment of Amtrak service east of New Orleans and on the I-20 corridor. I am also doing work as a consultant for turnaround situations and for government related interests. I enjoy serving as a “fixer” of sorts.

  1. What is the Southern Rail Commission?

The SRC is a commission created by an act of Congress to engage and inform public and private rail interests to support and influence Southeast rail initiatives. It consists of the states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and our commissioners are appointed by our respective Governors. Our commission has been in existence since 1982, and was instrumental in not only establishing Amtrak service on the Gulf Coast, but served as the operator of the daily service between New Orleans and Mobile in the 1990’s. We work closely with Amtrak, our host freight railroad partners, and our federal, state, and local elected officials to improve existing Amtrak services and to work toward new service on the Gulf Coast, I-20, and Baton Rouge/New Orleans corridors. We worked closely with Senators Cochran and Wicker to form the Gulf Coast Working Group that recently reported to Congress on the requirements to restart Amtrak service on the Gulf Coast. We also worked with Senator Cochran to provide assistance to our Coast cities to prepare their stations to receive the new service.  We keep an ongoing record of our work on our website at www.southernrailcommission.org

  1. How did you get involved in it?

Kay Kell, the former City Manager of Pascagoula, a commissioner and former Chairman, asked Governor Barbour to appoint me. She sees the economic benefit of transportation choices, especially one like passenger rail that would bring people to the hearts of the cities along the coast. I shared her vision, and she continues to be a champion of passenger rail in this state and I remain grateful to her for the opportunity. My involvement with the SRC has allowed me to tell our story and work closely with leaders from around the country who are at the forefront of providing transportation choices to their citizens and positioning their areas to be competitive in the fast evolving world economy.

  1. What spurred you interest in railroading?

I have always been fascinated with trains and transportation in general. After becoming mayor, and being able to learn more about the interaction of economic development and transportation, I began to pay more attention to it. I had the privilege of serving as Chair of the Transportation Advocacy Committee for the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, and as Chair of the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Jackson Metropolitan Statistical Area. Senator Wicker has been a great supporter of transportation, especially coordinating the multiple forms to make it easier and more efficient for people and goods to move from place to place. The SRC’s work with him and his staff has opened several doors for me to learn more about passenger and freight rail and its role in our transportation system. The more I learn, the more interesting it becomes.

  1. As a former mayor of a successful small town, what advice would you give to a new small town mayor?

Make friends with other successful mayors. They are delighted to share their knowledge, many times because they are also looking for new ideas. Take advantage of the educational and networking opportunities provided by the Mississippi Municipal League. These relationships have been invaluable to me. Participate in your Planning and Development District. The Central PDD, especially Mitzi Stubbs, did more to help our town prosper than anyone. Principally, just listen. I have so many people that have given me good, sound advice. I find that, so many times, there is a great temptation when in elected office, to think you are all of the sudden very smart and know all the answers. Just always remember one never knows all the answers and there is always an opportunity to learn a new, better way. Also, be able to admit when you are wrong. A rare thing in elective office, but necessary nonetheless.

  1. What was your proudest accomplishment as Mayor?

Changing the perception of our town. Working with a great team of Aldermen and employees to make Pelahatchie a town it citizens could be proud of.

  1. Do you miss politics?

I miss my mayor friends and the interaction with them. I miss working on and thinking about the opportunities and problems that Pelahatchie faces. I still operate in the political world with regard to the SRC and working with local governments. The rest of it?  No.

  1. What are your future plans?

I am now back in Pelahatchie full time. I am working on our SRC projects and pursuing opportunities to work with business and government entities to make them more efficient and responsive. I plan to put the unique knowledge I have gained in both the business and government sectors to work helping others.