July 30, 2014 10:37:46 AM
Miss. Gov. Phil Bryant gave area leaders a preview of his upcoming Neshoba County Fair speech Monday as he touted the successes of the Golden Triangle's blue-collar workers and the state's ability to come together and aggressively pursue major economic development projects.
Bryant and state Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, were on hand at Southwire's Starkville plant as the company received the Golden Triangle Development LINK's 2014 Industry of the Year award, an honor LINK officials said reflects the company's production quality, close-knit culture and unwavering commitment to safety.
Mississippi is becoming a "state to watch" in terms of potential economic development, Bryant said while delivering Monday's keynote address, because state leaders are now willing to put aside their differences and come together for the sake of job creation. Mississippi is now rated one of the top states for potential economic development, and Bryant hinted further economic-related announcements during his Thursday address at the Neshoba County Fair.
The governor touted Golden Triangle manufacturers -- Southwire, Severstal, Stark Aerospace and Airbus -- the state's growing automobile industry and Pascagoula's shipbuilders as evidence the state is now a key player in the national and global economies.
"We may disagree on other things, but when I call a U.S. Senate or House member...and we say this is about economic development, everyone comes together. I've had so many companies say we don't see that in other states. Good, I tell them," Bryant said. "I hope those folks up in North Carolina stay mad at each other. I hope those Texans don't all get along out there. I don't have anything against them -- I know their governors, and they're wonderful -- but, you see, I have to compete in the (Southeastern Conference of economic development).
"But we're winning. Yeah, we sort of used to be that fly-over state, but now they say we have to pay attention to Mississippi," he added. "Yokohama Tire Corporation looked at 28 states and 3,000 locations, and they came to Clay County. I believe we got their attention. This is not the last time they're going to hear from us. We're going to make them fight for every inch of dirt in this economic development struggle that goes on."
Bryant said Mississippi's growth relies on embracing the state's blue-collar work ethic. As the son of a diesel mechanic, Bryant said he remembers his mother driving his father to work every weekday before returning to make sure he and his brothers were ready for school.
"Working-class families like us were the backbone and will continue to be the backbone of the body of the state of Mississippi," Bryant said. "They get up every morning and go off to work. They stand rod-straight in difficult times. They finish their work at the plant...then make sure their families are in church on Sunday morning, volunteer to coach the little league baseball team or help a neighbor in times of distress. I believe the worker is someone to be lifted up and appreciated. Somewhere along the way, we decided that a craftsman was not to be as valued as a Ph.D. I've got three college degrees -- more college than I'll ever use."
That same work ethic and sense of family are what makes Starkville's Southwire plant a shining example of what industry can be in the Golden Triangle, Ellis said while touting the plant's impact on the nation.
"One out of every three homes built in the U.S. contains Southwire's wires. You can see why they're the industry of the year," Ellis said. "Without the employees here, it wouldn't happen. I think all of you, the employees, are doing such an outstanding job and are making it more attractive for other industries to want to come to the Golden Triangle and locate in our community."
LINK CEO singled out Southwire's management as a key factor in the company's success.
"They've got good people, they treat them right and they're good stewards. (Plant manager) Dan Bickford is, when you think about what an industry captain needs to be -- what a team leader needs to be -- he may be the poster child for that," Higgins said. "Excellent temperament, good intellect, looks out for his people, looks out for his company -- we found it a joy to work with him and his team."
Southwire was founded in 1950 and began producing wire with 12 employees and second-hand machinery in Georgia. Since then, the company has grown to 31 plants and customer service centers with a combined 7,000 employees and $5.6 billion in revenues.
"Yet even with that growth, we're still family-owned and still the Southwire family," Bickford said. "It's been great to do business in Mississippi. Our state is growing, and Southwire is proud to be part of that growth. We've been part of this community for 25 years and have found that the Starkville area is a great place to do business and raise our families. We look forward to another 25 years."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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