Gulfport Man To Head Development Panel

A Gulfport man has been tapped to oversee Governor Barbour's newest economic development panel. Governor Barbour announced yesterday that Anthony Topazi, the president of Mississippi Power will lead "Momentum Mississippi."

The commission will serve as the advisory board for the Mississippi Development Authority to create long-term plans for growth in Mississippi. The governor says this won't cost the state a dime. The committee is made up of volunteers who will pay for their own travel and meals. The group will work in conjunction with Governor Barbour's "Blueprint Mississippi" economic development plan to bring more business to the state.

Article from 8/10/04:

The nearly $500,000 Blueprint Mississippi unveiled Monday at the Jackson Hilton is already drumming up results: Gov. Haley Barbour said he would restore the dormant Economic Development and Planning Act of 1987.

"This is not a study that's going to sit on the shelf," the governor told a packed room of 500 attendees. "I will put the Economic Development and Planning Act of 1987 to work for no more studies, I will put it to work for action," he said.

Activating the 15-year-old act is one of Blueprint Mississippi's 11 recommendations to improve education, economic development and the business climate in the state. The legislation calls for economic development in the state to be "strategically, comprehensively and exhaustively planned and that the plan be reviewed and continuously update and systematically implemented."

The act will complement Blueprint Mississippi, a 10-year public-private plan to improve the state's economic status, said Anthony Topazi, chief executive officer of Mississippi Power.

Eight business leaders, including Topazi, served on the steering committee that drew the plan designed to make the state more competitive nationally and globally.

Its ultimate goals are to increase the average income per Mississippian and the average annual employment growth. The average income grew by 54 percent between 1993 and 2003 and average annual employment growth rose 1.1 percent in that same period, putting Mississippi at 11th place among the 12 southern states.

One goal is to raise the employment growth to at least eighth place by 2005 and sixth by 2010. The report calls for reforming the state's pre-K education program, training and mentoring more teachers to retain them, and increasing support for existing technology businesses while investing in start-ups. Such steps could help the state's overall economic condition, particularly in the South.

"The Blueprint is a beginning, not an ending. This is a starting point, not an ending place," said Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council and a steering committee member. Between December 2003 and March 2004, input was gathered from about 1,000 participants during nine statewide meetings. More than 50 recommendations were made in areas ranging from education to taxes and highways to health care.

Article from 8/10/04 - Source: Josee Valcourt, Clarion Ledger, Jackson, MS