March 3, 2011 2:08:00 PM
A team of state leaders, charting a road map for Mississippi''s economic future, stopped in Columbus on Tuesday and were surprised by the optimism felt by local business owners and economic officials.
Columbus, they said, was more upbeat than anywhere else in the state.
A lot of that optimism stems from our successes at the Golden Triangle Regional Aerospace Industrial Park. Companies including Severstal, Stark Aerospace, Aurora and Paccar are turning out everything from truck engines to rolled steel. Many have announced expansion plans or have already added on to their operations here.
The Columbus-Lowndes Development Link deserves a lot of credit for bringing in these businesses and the jobs they create.
But the Link, and other local leaders, don''t do it alone. They get help from the top. And a key player in our successes is leaving Mississippi.
Gray Swoope, a West Point boy, has been head of the Mississippi Development Authority since 2007. The Oak Hill Academy and Mississippi State University graduate cut his teeth working in economic development first in his hometown of West Point, then in agencies in Arkansas.
At the state level, Swoope helped us land many of the companies now in the industrial park. He also helped broker the deal that is bringing KiOR to Columbus, and has worked to keep existing businesses in the state. Cooper Tire, which many feared might leave Tupelo, is not only remaining in the city, but is adding jobs. Swoope also helped bring Toyota to northeast Mississippi.
Swoope''s successes in Mississippi have been noticed nationwide, and that''s bad news for us, but great news for him. This week, Swoope was hand-picked this week by Florida''s governor to lead statewide economic development there.
That Florida, with its population of more than 18 million -- and an economy that accounts for more than 5 percent of the nation''s total gross domestic product -- has tapped a Mississippi boy to chart its economic future, speaks volumes about what Swoope has accomplished here.
Swoope will lead Enterprise Florida, the state''s economic development arm. Florida''s governor wants to reorganize the agency into a new group called the Department of Commerce. Swoope is expected to head up that effort.
Our loss is Florida''s gain. Swoope has helped bring development to his home, the Golden Triangle, that will have immeasurable benefits in the years to come. We thank him, and wish him the best as he and his family move on to the Sunshine State.