State economic development leader looks at river potential in Natchez

Published 12:06 am Saturday, June 16, 2012

NATCHEZ — The new executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority was in Natchez Thursday and Friday to meet with local economic development officials and learn about what assets the area has to offer.

Brent Christenson was named to the position in mid-May and started the job this week. One of his first moves was to begin a statewide tour to get a better grasp on what is happening in the state economically and what the state has to offer for future projects, he said.

Prior to being named as the MDA director, Christenson worked at the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg before spending 10 years as president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce in Gainesville, Fla.

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“It was very important for me to get out and get reintroduced with the state,” Christenson said. “My goal is to really learn what is going on in economic development; the state has had some significant economic development victories since I left it.”

The statewide tour began with the three coastal counties Wednesday and traveled up to the Hattiesburg area Thursday and then over to Natchez. After touring the Natchez area Friday, Christenson headed north to Vicksburg.

Northern Mississippi will follow in the coming weeks, Christenson said.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said as part of the area tour he took Christenson to several parcels of property — including the KiOR and Elevance sites, and the former International Paper site, which is now owned by Rentech — and to view the area’s port assets.

“We also looked at all of the areas of improvements that the state funds are contributing to these projects, kind of what was going on and how those monies were being spent and the long-term plan regarding parts of those projects — for example the port connector road,” Russ said.

“It is good for (Christenson) to have a overview of strategic assets located throughout the state, the river ports, viable tracts of property and some of their major projects that are under way or soon to be under way. It was important for him to view those and get a lay of the land and understanding of what Adams County’s commitment is to economic development, as well as a historical perspective on what the state has recently done in some of their participation in some of our economic development projects.”

The Adams County tour took approximately two hours, and Russ said he hoped Christenson walked away with a sense of how valuable accessible river property is.

“I think one of the overall takeaways (of the tour) is the value of — the need for, really — state of the art and aggressive river ports, as well as the need for availability of additional river properties up and down the river.”

Christenson said his goals Friday were to listen to economic developers at a local level to better get a feel for the overall state of things in Mississippi before he would commit to a statewide economic development plan.

“I want it to be an all-inclusive plan, because the state and the MDA are only as strong as our local partners,” he said.