Heidel: Communities should diversify

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 9, 1999

Calling Natchez &uot;one of the greatest treasures Mississippi has ever had,&uot; James Heidel offered area business leaders some advice: Diversify.

&uot;Do the things other communities have not done,&uot; Heidel, director of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, told Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce members Thursday. &uot;Have a vision, and reach forward.&uot;

Mississippi is becoming more attractive to other industries, Heidel said, including defense-oriented and telecommunications businesses.

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Last week, Mississippi-based MCI Worldcom announced plans to buy Sprint Corp. for $115 billion – the biggest corporate takeover in history.

&uot;Many people believe we are a mini-Silicon Valley waiting to happen,&uot; Heidel said.

And thanks in large part to U.S. Sen. Trent Lott’s influence as Senate majority leader, the state has also benefitted from a number of defense projects.

&uot;A willingness to adapt and change&uot; is a key to local economic development success, Heidel said. &uot;We’ve got to be willing to take a chance and invest in (new industries),&uot; he said.

Heidel noted that when he took his job in 1992, the state only had economic incentives available for manufacturers. But those incentives were soon revamped by the state Legislature to include other industries, he said.

Other changes Heidel said he’s seen in the state in his term include an increased budget for tourism and marketing, an increase in tourism and a jump in the average hourly wage for Mississippi workers.

New chamber of commerce chairman Stephanie Hutchins said she hopes Heidel’s comments can spur the Natchez area to progress. &uot;I was thrilled to hear of the progress in Mississippi,&uot; she said. &uot;I would love to see a way to bring some of that progress to Natchez.&uot;

Heidel said Natchez has plenty of advantages. &uot;Your city is absolutely one of the greatest treasures Mississippi has ever had, and you’ve been willing to share that,&uot; he said.

Hutchins agreed Natchez has the tools in place – from its natural beauty to its rich history – to be a leader in economic development.

But to become part of the changes in Mississippi, Hutchins said Natchez needs to be careful with its past.

&uot;We’d have to be very careful not to lose all of our heritage to do it,&uot; she said. &uot;We would have to be good architects of both the past and the future.&uot;