Mississippi Establishes Its Own World Trade Center

Mississippi opened its World Trade Center on Thursday, the first such organization launched in the United States since Sept. 11.

"This is a great statement,'' said Herbert Ouida, executive vice president of the World Trade Centers Association in New York. "You brought Nissan here, and that was a big plus for the state. Now you're saying, 'We're going beyond Nissan. We're serious about international business.'''

Ouida was referring to Nissan Motor Co.'s $930 million auto assembly plant under construction and scheduled to open next year in Madison County, just north of Jackson.

State officials say the idea behind the new trade center is to help businesses large and small take part in global commerce.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said establishing a World Trade Center was part of his Advantage Mississippi economic development initiative, which includes tax breaks, employee training, technology improvements and other measures to lure better-paying jobs to the state.

"This center brings global attention to our state and announces to the world our commitment to international economic development,'' said Musgrove, who revealed Thursday he'll travel to Japan next week to meet with existing and prospective investors.

Musgrove's trip to Asia will be his third in six months. He traveled to South Korea in December and February in the state's failed attempt to attract Hyundai Motor Co., which chose Alabama for its $1 billion auto plant.

The governor said Mississippi's exports topped $3.5 billion last year. Products leaving the state included cotton, paper, plastics and ships built at yards on the Gulf Coast.

The Mississippi World Trade Center, which has its offices on the second floor of the Landmark Center in downtown Jackson, will coordinate international programs and services as part of a public-private partnership. The partnership includes the Mississippi Development Authority, the U.S. Department of Commerce, colleges and universities and BellSouth, which donated the office space.

The state has pledged $100,000 for the next three years to support the center. The goal, said executive director Barbara Travis, is to become self-sufficient by that time through membership fees and money generated from seminars, workshops and other services.

The nonprofit center, one of more than 300 worldwide, has a variety of membership levels, starting at $200 for retirees, professors and graduate students and climbing to $10,000 for the top corporate classification.

Travis said the center will promote services already offered by MDA and federal agencies as well as create new programs. For example, her office is planning an educational seminar in the coming weeks for the state's automobile manufacturers trade association.

The Mississippi WTC also plans to work closely with its sister organization in New Orleans, the nation's oldest.

Ouida said centers worldwide network frequently. He said the outpouring from members was overwhelming after the Sept. 11 attacks on the twin towers. Ouida was on the 77th floor of one of the towers when the attack occurred. His son Todd, working on the 105th floor, died.

"When I look at this crowd today, to me it says, 'We won. They lost,'' Ouida told those gathered in the new Jackson offices. "In opening this World Trade Center, what a great statement you make to the world.''