Change BRWEing for Small Communities

It’s Christmas with all its hustle and bustle, ads and sales!

And, beneath it all, the real meaning of Christmas…the birth of Jesus and the hope he brings. From this come many spiritual lessons, but since this column focuses on secular issues, let’s go with that side of Jesus’ life.

Born among his people, raised among his people, Jesus taught his message to his people. They chose not to listen, instead to reject him. His message was received and thrived in the hearts of others.

So it was with Edwards Demmings. America, his home, rejected his message of quality production. They listened intently in Japan. So today, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan persist as our automobile industry goes through crash and burn.

Do people ever learn?

Six years ago, as Gray Swoope and Leland Speed took charge of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), they sought to re-balance the approach to economic development used by small communities. Speed used “Boomtown USA” by Jack Schultz to emphasize the message. He once asked Schultz how many communities would change and, thereby, survive in the 21st Century economy.

“One out of three will make it,” Schultz replied.

The change small communities need to make, Speed and Swoope said, is to balance traditional recruitment with entrepreneurship…grow your own businesses around your strongest assets.

Understand, entrepreneur development has not been a priority in Mississippi. The big money goes – and will continue to go – to recruiting industries. Next come industries wanting to expand. Workforce training gives big dollars to train people to “take a job.” Hardly any money goes to train people to “make a job” for themselves.

In the face of this tradition, can Swoope (Speed re-entered the private sector) and MDA re-balance Mississippi’s economic development strategies as Governor Hugh White did with BAWI (Balance Agriculture With Industry)?

Well, a BRWE movement (Balance Recruiting With Entrepreneurship) is quietly building to support this change.

Over the past year, Mississippi’s community colleges – with resources provided by MDA and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) – worked with every community, encouraging them to adopt “grow your own” strategies…called “economic gardening” at its utmost. The colleges produced outreach materials to help towns connect entrepreneurs to free services available across the state.

Movement partners include Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) coordinated by the home office at Ole Miss; USM’s Trent Lott National Center; the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA); WIN Job Centers coordinated by MDES; Planning and Development Districts; the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University (MSU); the Mississippi Economic Development Council, the Mississippi office of the Small Business Administration; and the MyBiz.AM Network.

These partners developed BRWE guidelines for the state and presented them to Momentum Mississippi and Governor Haley Barbour. There has been no official response yet, but the guidelines are in play and unlikely to go away.

Meanwhile, programs to help communities change popped up: Mississippi Main Street’s Small Town Design charrette program, adapted from the Auburn Urban Studio innovative program; the First Impressions program offered by the MSU Community Action Team; the community asset development program offered by MDA; and regional innovation councils sponsored by MTA.

BRWE partners hope some special Christmas presents can spur the movement onward. Community colleges, SBDCs, and WIN Job Centers will provide free training to 1,000 dislocated workers wanting to buy or start their own businesses…if the Governor approves using ARRA funds for this purpose.

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