Joe Fuller, professor of management practice and general management at Harvard Business School, questions a panel of local leaders during a meeting of the Golden Triangle Development LINK Trust Tuesday at The Mill at MSU. The Harvard group of 20 faculty members visited the Golden Triangle to learn about the region's economic development challenges and successes. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
November 1, 2017 11:41:03 AM
Jan Rivkin said there's no greater gift for professors than food for thought, and local officials gave 20 visitors from Harvard Business School a feast during a two-day visit to the Golden Triangle.
The group, led by Rivkin, who is the HBS senior associate dean for research, visited the region to meet with local education, business and government leaders and the Golden Triangle Development LINK Trust. The visit was one of a series of trips the HBS faculty takes to study economic development across the United States and to create a clearer picture of the country's competitiveness.
During a Tuesday morning breakfast with the LINK Trust at The Mill at Mississippi State University, some of the Harvard visitors asked officials about the region's challenges and triumphs. Questions during the roughly 45-minute panel discussion touched on a broad swath of topics, from global competition to the LINK's commitment to non-union jobs and growth in West Point after the Sara Lee plant closed.
One professor asked how the LINK's economic success has translated to economic gains for the region's African American population.
John Davis, a former chair of the LINK board, said there has been some disconnect between the growth the region has seen and growth in black-owned businesses. He noted in each of the Golden Triangle's communities, elected boards for cities and counties are evenly split between black and white members, or majority black.
"We have tremendous buy-in from elected officials, and we're working from the ground up to change the mindset of folks as they're getting jobs and coming forward," Davis said. "You'll see some where lives have changed dramatically, but the change in jobs for, let's say, the 50-year-old black man or woman has not been as apparent. And while we have lip-service buy-in from that age group and that community, unfortunately we don't have that many black-owned businesses who want to join the chamber (of commerce) and the LINK.
"We're working on it, but it's going to have to come from the young people up to the top," he said.
LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins noted the LINK's board is racially diverse, and said the lack of black-owned businesses represented as part of the Trust is likely more a symptom of the LINK's struggles with getting smaller businesses to join. He said the Trust has a minimum $1,000 commitment to join, which can be a stretch for some small businesses.
"This group is businesses that elect to pay to join," Higgins said. "That's where we're kind of hitting the wall. It's not without effort. It's not that we've not tried."
Developing young leadership
As the discussion shifted to preparing the next generation of leaders for the region, Oktibbeha County District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard noted his county's wealth of black public leaders and pointed to them as examples of leadership.
"We have people in place that the younger generation can look and see that they're in leadership positions," Howard said. "Part of our job is to continue to grow leaders -- minorities as well as majorities -- that will continue to compete, going forward, on a global level."
Rivkin, speaking with media after the breakfast, said he was most surprised by the deep trust that exists between business, government and education leaders and their commitment to working together to help the region grow.
"An issue with most collaboration is you get an employer and a community college in a room together and they just kind of defend their own interests," Rivkin said. "So it's a fairly generic way of collaborating -- not a deep, new way.
"But in order to get creativity in collaborating, you actually need to trust one another," he added. "You need to be able to say, 'Look I'm going to trust ... you and take a risk with you.' And I think you've got that here."
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