Rupert Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 28, 2008

State’s chief cheerleader brags on spirit of cooperation that landed GE

There’s something going on on Highway 6 east in Batesville and at least one public official seems excited about not only what is happening at the new GE plant now, but what is going to happen in the future.

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Governor Haley Barbour sees the plant as a result of a concerted effort among the state’s congressional delegation, his office and Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s three major universities, Northwest Mississippi Community College, state legislators and local officials.

Isn’t that the way that government and state sponsored institutions are supposed to work?

Well, yeah. But often we get so involved in the mundane that we forget to look at the big picture to see what it is we should accomplish. We’re sometimes too busy protecting our turf and too partisan to work together for the good of all.

The GE Aviation plant seems to be taking advantage of assets that others have taken for granted or left untapped.

“Our universities are gold mines for economic development,” Barbour proclaimed and stated, “We’ve got to do a better job of mining.

“It’s not a coincidence that you see the university logos on the screen with GE’s (logos),” Barbour noted at the GE plant’s grand opening last week.

The logos of Mississippi’s three major universities, the Mississippi seal and the NWCC logo were projected on the screen for all to see during the dedication ceremony.

Research at Mississippi State, a partnership with Ole Miss, a strong interest in Southern’s polymer institute, and workforce training by Northwest have all played a part in GE Aviation’s interest and investment in Mississippi.

Barber went on to speak of previous economic development when employers came looking for strong backs.

“Now they’re looking for strong minds,” Barber said and added, “This is the most sophisticated manufacturing GE does and they’re doing it in Batesville, Mississippi. That speaks volumes.”

Barber had previously stated that Batesville and North Mississippi had received “rave reviews” for their GE commitment and added that Batesville and Panola County had hit a “home run” locating them to their site.

Always the promoter, Barbour also acts like a cheerleader for the GE project. Although the Toyota plant in Blue Springs may look gargantuan, compared to our local GE plant, a sincerity in Governor Barber’s voice and expression as he talked about the plant’s future lets you know this project is special to him… and he probably knows more than he’s telling.

But what he did tell was that when entering the building with GE Aviation CEO and President David Joyce that Joyce pointed to the employees’ lockers located near the entrance.

Barber, quoting Joyce, said, “I told them to go ahead and put in 475 lockers… and when we use all of them up, we’ll put in some more.”