Leaders hopeful about new MDA director

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Most local leaders don’t know much about the man Gov.-elect Haley Barbour appointed Thursday to head the Mississippi Development Authority.

But all said they look forward to getting an opportunity to brief Jackson businessman Leland Speed on the economic needs of southwest Mississippi and, in particular, Adams County.

Speed, who must still be confirmed by the state Senate, has been the managing trustee and chairman of EastGroup Properties since 1983 and served as chief executive officer through September 1997.

Email newsletter signup

He also serves as chairman of the board of directors of Parkway Properties Inc., and as a director of ChemFirst. In the past, he has served as president of the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce.

That experience, said Michael Ferdinand, executive director of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, will serve Speed well in his new position.

&uot;His experience in the private sector will be invaluable to heading up the organization and in dealing with private businesses,&uot; Ferdinand said. &uot;We look forward to working with him in the near future.&uot;

&uot;I think it’s a great appointment,&uot; said Andrew Ketchings, a former state lawmaker and EDA official. &uot;He has a long record of economic development and has been successful in everything he’s done in his lifetime. And it’s good to see someone like him who’s willing to step in to serve the public sector.&uot;

As far as appointments go, said Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Calvit, &uot;I feel this is a good one, though I think we’re going to have to bend his ears to remember Southwest Mississippi to help us with all our job losses.&uot;

Calvit said he would love to meet with Speed and other state economic officials to discuss some of the area’s economic concerns, but he believes local leaders need to attend the meeting as a group.

That’s being arranged, said EDA Chairman Woody Allen, who said he has talked with Ferdinand about the possibility of bringing Speed and other MDA officials down to Natchez to see the area firsthand.

&uot;The loss of jobs and how hard we’ve been hit have been pretty well documented throughout the state,&uot; Allen said.

Now, the task is to brief Speed on the assistance the area needs from the state &uot;and get him up to speed on the projects we’re working on and where they are in the works,&uot; Allen said.

Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said he looks forward to the chance to talk over Natchez’s economic needs with the MDA’s new director.

Smith, who attended the Mississippi Economic Council’s legislative forum in Jackson Thursday, said it was reiterated by many there that key state leaders are familiar with, and sympathetic to, Natchez’s plight.

&uot;There’s very obviously going to be a lot of attention directed to southwest Mississippi in the coming months,&uot; Smith said.

Both Allen and Darryl Grennell, president of the Adams County Board of Supervisors said they look forward to continuing a cooperative relationship local leaders have had in recent years with the MDA.

&uot;I hope we can develop the same type of relationship with this director as with previous director,&uot; Grennell said. &uot;He knew there was a severe need for economic growth in this area, and I hope we’re able to have same lines of communication with (Speed).&uot;

The Associated Press contributed to this report.