| By Jason C. Mattox
Mississippi Development Authority Director Leland Speed told a group of Panola County community leaders "Manufacturing ain’t where it’s at anymore."
He said while Mississippi lost 67,000 manufacturing jobs it picked up 120,000 service sector jobs and noted that not only have manufacturing jobs been lost in Mississippi and the U.S., but all over the world.
Speaking at John Kyle Park near Sardis August 9, Speed said the explosion in productivity has reduced the need for manufacturing labor and while not advising communities to give up on luring manufacturing jobs to their areas, he recommended alternatives.
Speed told the group that they were actually in the real estate business, selling their community and its assets to site selectors, manufacturing concerns and people looking for a place to live.
He cited nearby Oxford as a good example and said "Plants won’t look at anywhere else but Oxford–they have demonstrated the ability to deliver."
Speed emphasized curb appeal, saying, "Making it (your community) look good is not an option."
"You can’t show me a pretty town that isn’t doing well," Speed said and added, "If you let nature take its course, it’s going to look like hell."
Speed is upbeat about opportunities for small towns to develop and grow. He said that people formerly moved to large population areas to find jobs.
"Now, people decide where they want to live and then look for a job," he said and added that those people are looking for smaller communities that offer quality of life.
He pointed toward DeSoto County and said that instead of building malls, developers are building little communities with streets and small shops with housing in the upstairs.
Small communities already have this in place and can take advantage of it by sprucing up existing areas and sprucing it up.
He offered alternatives in the form of service sector jobs.
"If you’re not in the health care industry, you’re not a player," Speed said, stating that of 139 job descriptions where there were shortages in the state, 45 were health care related.
"We are no longer an agricultural state," Speed said, noting that there are 37,000 people employed in agriculture in Mississippi and 36,000 employed in the casino industry–and the casino number is rising.
The MDA Director said that his department has more industrial prospects than ever, "…but they are very picky."
He said having a flat piece of land suitable for development with nearby utilities is not what industrial prospects are looking for and encouraged "looking at the big picture" by focusing on the downtown area, by-passes, and corridors.
Speed should know. His real estate and business concerns handle billions in assets all over the country. The Mississippi Legislature had to pass special legislation that would allow him to work free–since the state couldn’t afford him–after he was appointed by Governor Haley Barbour to the position.
Speed also said that a proposed by-pass south of Batesville offered unique opportunities. He recommended controlling signage, limited access and unique landscaping stating that each community should have a uniqueness.
He called for elected public officials to "step up" noting that mega-stores, chain stores and bank branches had replaced many of the independent businesses whose owners had formerly been in the forefront of development in small communities.