Local business leaders get coaching advice

Published 12:10 am Friday, February 1, 2008

Whit Hughes knows a little about preparation.

The current deputy director of the Mississippi Development Authority and former GOP fundraiser, Hughes is probably better known in the state as a member of the Final Four 1995-1996 Mississippi State basketball team.

Hughes spoke to the Natchez Rotary Club Wednesday with a message about the importance of team preparedness as it relates to economic development.

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There is probably no better person to talk about the concepts of teamwork and preparation than Hughes.

The walk-on basketball player for the Bulldogs quickly became one of the real contributors of a talent-filled basketball team.

Playing in the shadows of future NBA star Eric Dampier and European basketball star Daryl Wilson, Hughes became part of the infamous Bench Dogs. The group of four players on the Bench Dogs helped Mississippi State beat three Top-10 teams in two weeks, including winning the SEC championship game during March Madness.

Hughes’ incredible off-balance shot that banked into the basket sent the Wildcats home during the SEC tournament to regroup before eventually winning the National Championship that year.

And Hughes would probably tell you that it was the contributions of the entire team and the many hours of preparation that gave the Bulldogs the skills and the confidence to make it as far as they did.

So it was no surprise that Hughes’ message to the business community Wednesday was one of preparedness.

The community must be ready at all times to recruit new business, Hughes said. It is not enough to be ready when officials from a prospective industry pay a visit to the local Chamber of Commerce or Economic Development Office.

If a community finds itself on a prospective industry’s short list for consideration, it doesn’t take very much to keep a community on or off the list.

And that is why a community needs to always be prepared, Hughes said.

With an increasingly competitive climate, it is not uncommon for industry officials to pay a visit to prospective communities unexpectedly.

Like mystery shoppers, they may decide to spend a weekend touring the area and talking to locals about what it is like to really live in the community.

Instead of just getting the positive spin offered by city and county officials, industry leaders are finding out for themselves what the community is really like.

While it may appear that the star players of the area economic development team are the elected city leaders and officials of the local EDA, Hughes pointed out that it might just be the bench players, the local residents and business owners, who are the critical players in attracting business.

Ultimately it is the attitude of those working and living in the community that can create a lasting impression on prospective leaders.

Hughes said one of the biggest examples of this is the Toyota plant being built in North Mississippi. Hughes pointed out that it was collaboration of three counties who took it upon themselves to acquire land and have it ready that created a lasting impression of Toyota officials.

In 2001, Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties collaborated to create a unprecedented multi-governmental partnership in the Wellspring project. In 2007, Toyota announced plans to build a car plant at the Wellspring site.

Such teamwork and preparation leads to success, Hughes said.

Those are sound words from someone who knows a little about success.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.