July 29, 2013 Rotogram: 5

Starkville Fire Protection

Rodger Mann, Starkville fire chief, will explain how his department has made possible an improved Class 4 rating for the city. Bill Parrish will introduce him.

Next Week: Regional Development

Mike Clayborne, president of CREATE Foundation based in Tupelo, will update us on what is being done to improve regional community development. Stuart Vance will introduce him.

For the Record—July 22

Invocation and Pledge:              Alan Tucker

Attendance:                                       58.54%

Present — 102 (31 exempt)

Absent — 76 (14 exempt, 11 honorary)

Makeups reported:Grant Arinder in Red Lodge, Mont., and Stu Vance.

Guests:Visiting Rotarian was Prentiss “Bud” Gordon. Member guests were Cory Lucius of Michelle Amos, Sid Salter of Ned Browning, David Shaw of Stu Vance, Gerald Nelson of Mike Mazzola, Joey Deason and Joe Max Higgins of Steve Langston, Matthew Nicolas of Don Lasell and Spencer Broocks of Katherine Little.

Youth Exchange Needs Hosts

Philippi Romen-Naegel, our new Rotary Youth Exchange student from Kakar, Germany arrives Wednesday. Her first host family will be Robert and Jane Moorhead and daughter Megan.

We still need host families for the 16-year-old for the rest of the year. Please suggest potential host families to Debra Hicks, chair, or Grant Arinder, co-chair, of the RYE committee.

Meeting Notes

  • President Brent noted mentions of several Rotarians in recent Starkville Daily News issues.
  • Austin Shafer’s new position with BankFirst was announced.
  • Rex Buffington and Lewis Holloway’s work with the school consolidation commission was noted.
  • Jennifer Gregory discussed plans for the Holiday Bazaar to be held in December.
  • Members were encouraged to check committee lists on the tables for 2013-14 assignments.
  • He noted the absence of the Rotogram due to Ned Browning’s mishap with a flash flood. (Editor’s note — Thanks to John Forde for coming to the rescue and covering the meeting.)

Meet a New Rotarian

Trish Cunetto, director of development for Mississippi State University’s College of Education, taught at Sudduth Elementary for 26 years and a bit of time in West Point.

“I’ve always wanted to get more involved in community activities, but when you’re in the classroom all day, you don’t have the opportunity to get out,” she said. “There aren’t many times that you get a chance to start a totally different career. So, I’m really excited to be part of Rotary.”

The MSU graduate is from Columbus and her husband Dominic grew up on campus.

Engage Rotary, Change Lives — 2013-2014 International Theme

“[W]hen you make the decision to truly engage Rotary — to bring Rotary service and Rotary values into every day of your life — that is when you start to see the incredible impact that you can have.” — Ron Burton, RI president

Economic Development Effort Returns Ten-fold on Investment

July 22 — Job creation in Mississippi at mid-2013 already has exceeded all of last year’s performance. Brent Christensen, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, reported that as of July 22, 3,709 jobs have been announced with $663 million in new corporate investments.

“In 2012 we announced 2,674 jobs with a half billion dollars investment,” he said. “That’s a good, but not great year. It’s a rebuilding year. We economic developers are evaluated on how many job opportunities we bring to the state.”

Although the recently announced Yokohama tire plant in West Point is expected to hire 2,000 people, Christensen is cautious to only include the 500 jobs being filled in phase one.

On the job for 14 months, the Florida native explained his early challenges stemmed from the 15 months gap between his appointment and former Director Gray Swoope’s departure.

“Although we had great interim leaders in Leland Speed and Jim Barksdale, we lost some key personnel,” he said.

“The MDA is unique when it comes to public entities,” said Christensen. “Yeah, we get taxpayer dollars, but ultimately those dollars ought to have a measurable return on investment.”

To demonstrate that return, the department looked at the last four to five year period and found a ten to one return in the “taxpayer investment portfolio.” The number includes failures as well as successes.

He explained that there is no real hierarchy with the MDA staff of about 300 focusing on five principle areas: business recruitment, retention and expansion; minority and small business assistance; community development; tourism; and, disaster recovery (still lots to be done eight years after Katrina).

“We are a sales force promoting Mississippi’s workforce and business opportunities,” he said. “Not every community is economic development ready, so we have to work with them.”

Tourism remains one of the state’s best untapped resources. The MDA study showed a ROI of $6.50 for every tourism dollar invested.

“I come from Florida. We understand tourism as economic development,” said the former Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Technology Enterprise Center CEO. “Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough money in our budget to brand Mississippi tourism as we should.”

“The one word that comes to my head is ‘authentic’,” he said. “In Mississippi, we have the juke joints where B.B. King grew up playing. In Florida, we built plastic juke joints.”

While it is important to target industries for economic development, Christensen found that the state had 25 to 30 targets. He said that is trying to be all things to all people, so the MDA decided to focus on the strengths of aerospace, health care, automotive, advanced manufacturing, ship building, energy and agribusiness.

Speaking of our area’s aviation and aerospace industry, he made a NFL reference saying the state is “sneaky strong.” We don’t look fast, but suddenly set records.

He deputized Rotarians as economic developers saying our elevator speech should focus on Mississippi’s business climate and strong work force. He touts low corporate tax rates, a fair legal environment, and pro-business government officials.

The MDA stresses a qualified, highly motivated, and productive workforce. The state’s competitive labor costs are about 26 percent less than the U.S. average.

A 2013 legislative initiative allows companies to take unused corporate tax credits and monetize them for workforce development programs. Another allows energy purchases to be exempt from sales tax.

Christensen noted two great state promotion opportunities this year as the Coast hosts the Southern Automotive Conference in October and the Southeast U.S. Japan Association 36th annual meeting a month later.


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