Eminently qualified to head up the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), Glenn McCullough won’t have a cakewalk.
Gov. Phil Bryant announced McCullough’s appointment last Thursday, saying, “He can build a consensus and get things done. We have great momentum in Mississippi, and Glenn will take that success to the next level.”
First, though, McCullough must grapple with budget and staffing issues and changing priorities.
MDA will have an extra $1 million in general funds to spend next year, but $66.8 million less in special funds. And out of these special funds MDA must spend $3.671 million on election year, legislative earmarks. So, the budget will be tight.
(Yes, Republican leaders in the Mississippi Legislature allow earmarks!)
McCullough will also step into an agency changing its priorities. The new priorities come from the closely-held 2014 Blueprint Mississippi Economic Competitiveness Study contracted for by the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC).
One priority led MDA to decide to close its eight regional offices and eliminate 11 positions (10 currently filled). MDA’s Jeff Rent told the Mississippi Business Journal, “The decision to close the regional office program is based upon several factors, including the agency’s efforts to implement recommendations from the recent competitiveness study.”
So what did the study say that led to this action? That’s confidential said MDA, ask the MEC. That’s confidential said MEC.
One source finally told me the study showed MDA spending too little on new business development and too much on existing industry. So, with the budget tight, MDA has chosen to re-direct regional office funds to new business development, including foreign job recruitment.
(Now, what about that needs to be confidential?)
While the finally revealed rationale is understandable, closing the regional offices poses a risk. For most small communities, regional office staff are the only MDA people they’ ever see. MDA risks disconnecting with these communities and, thereby, their legislators.
MDA hopes another competitiveness study recommendation can fill the gap. Last Thursday the agency launched its new web site, http://www.choosemississippi.org. “The development and launch of the new website is the result of the findings of a 2014 competitiveness study funded by Mississippi Economic Council,” said a Mississippi Business Journal blog. “The comprehensive website features essential economic and industry data for the state’s target industries and workforce development resources.”
MDA hopes communities will use the site and other modern technology to link businesses and prospects to the agency.
(Whatever the study said about a web site was kept confidential too.)
MDA will also count on Jackson-based asset development staff and project managers to reach out to communities. However, a number of project manager positions are unfilled.
Trying to recruit jobs in the midst of MDA’s changing priorities, a tight budget and unfilled positions, and the risk of small communities becoming disconnected will leave the talented McCullough with his hands full.