JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Is Jackson County lazy? That's how the head of the Mississippi Development Authority described it to more than 100 community leaders Tuesday morning.
Leland Speed was in Jackson County to talk about beautification and improving communities. And while the criticism may have been unexpected, so was the reaction.
The leader of the state economic development agency stood before a packed house in Jackson County and told its leaders they have not done the best job on providing a quality of life here.
"I am just going to be very frank," Speed told the crowd. "I think you have gotten a little lazy because economic development has come so easy to you."
Members of the audience didn't get upset, but did question whether 'lazy' was a fair description.
"Here in Jackson County, this community is very focused and intelligent," said George Freeland, Executive Director of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority.
"We spent $1.4 million in flowers and taking care of trees in along Highway 90," said Pascagoula Mayor Robbie Maxwell.
After his speech, Leland Speed told WLOX News he wasn't trying to be harsh, just truthful.
"You have been so blessed with so much economic development here that people haven't really focused on quality of life issues," Speed said.
Speed pointed to the thousands of good jobs at Ingalls Shipbuilding as a big plus. But he said too many of those workers don't live in Jackson County, which is a problem that needs to be fixed.
"You got more jobs than you have people, and this illustrates where the challenge is. We have to have a town where more folks want to live in."
For starters, Speed said Highway 90 needs to be redeveloped into a first class thoroughfare. And more retail and hotels should be added to the county.
"So the people that actually live here don't have to go somewhere to do their shopping, and you have to have places for people to stay."
Next, he said, leaders need to put more emphasis on riverfront development to lure more residents.
Speed described his comments as "tough love" meant to encourage changes to make Jackson County better for all.
"They want to see a nice, neat, clean, attractive place to either visit or do business."