Barbour: Job one is new jobs for state

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

In his inaugural address, Gov. Haley Barbour made clear his administration’s top priority: economic development.

&8220;Everyone who ran for office last year knows job creation is our most urgent need. We heard from voters about job losses. Often we met with people who had lost their jobs or were afraid of losing their jobs. In their eyes we saw genuine fear for their family’s future,&8221; he said. &8220;Those grim circumstances still speak to me, and my response is that job creation will be the first immediate goal of my administration.&8221;

Barbour has made strides in this realm. His Jobs Creation Summit last month was well received and has been roundly hailed as a success. More so, Barbour’s choice as the new head of the Mississippi Development Authority has met nothing but praise.

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Barbour’s pick, Leland Speed, is chairman of Parkway Properties Inc. and EastGroup Properties Inc., two of the nation’s most successful real estate investment firms. In addition to his professional success, Speed has been praised for his involvement of development boards focused at improving downtown Jackson and Mississippi as a whole.

In the September/October 2003 edition of Real Estate Portfolio magazine, a publication of the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT), Speed showcased his tactical, logic-driven approach to business, an attitude that could prove extremely effective as the leader of economic development projects for Mississippi.

&8220;Through the early 1980s, we acquired 12 REITs [real estate investment trusts], all &8216;unfriendlies.’ It worked this way: I looked for REITs with a big, proud sponsor who was embarrassed to hell and back by the REIT’s business results. I would become the largest shareholder, ask for a seat on the board and get to know everyone. After building up a level of trust, we would acquire control, pack up and move everything to Jackson, Miss.,&8221; Speed responded to a Portfolio reporter when asked about the rumor that most of his business growth was the result of &8220;hostile takeovers.&8221;

The statement from Speed yields several insights, two that are of particular interest.

First, it shows patience on the part of Speed. His process of growing his companies was methodical, planned and executed with precision &045; precision that requires patience. In economic development, nothing happens quickly. Projects can take years to materialize, and that is the hardest part of the ordeal at times.

Second, Speed’s answer shows an aggressive nature that is tempered with business professionalism. Speed did not get to where he is today by waiting on people to come to him. Nor did he get where he is today by making everyone like him. Speed is successful because he sought out opportunities and took advantage of them. In economic development, opportunities must be exploited swiftly and aggressively if success is to be garnered from said opportunities.

In the past, Mississippi has failed to do some of the things needed in order to land the big fish. After Nissan located in Canton, some legislative leaders said that former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and his economic team took on the opinion that business prospects should conform to what Mississippi offers and not the other way around.

Barbour &045; in another signal that he is mindful of economic development &045; was the first elected official to publicly pay lip service to Musgrove’s shortfalls when Barbour told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo that Hyundai officials &8220;weren’t going to come to Pelahatchie. When you try to make a customer buy something he doesn’t want you have very little chance of making a sell. Let them decide where they want to go.&8221;

Barbour’s early success will be determined by his ability to work well with the Legislature and his handling of the budget, but as time passes his report card will be based on jobs. Early indicators are positive, but results will determine Barbour’s legacy.

Sam R. Hall

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