...Economic development officials from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and South Alabama took
regionalism to a new level when they teamed up at meetings with prospects during the Paris
International Air Show in June.
...“I think it sent a strong message of the solidarity and partnership that we have with our
competitors/allies on the Gulf Coast,” said Troy Wayman, Mobile Area Chamber of
Commerce vice president of economic development.
...“I think it spoke volumes for our ability to work together as a team to make sure a project
would happen. People here understand that if something happens in Mississippi it’s good for
us,” he said.
...“For right here and right now, no question it was the right thing to do,” said George
Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.
...For the past few international air shows, cooperation has become routine for groups in
Alabama, Mississippi and Northwest Florida, spurred on by the competition between Boeing
and EADS to build tankers for the Air Force. They joined forces for gala events, but meetings
with prospects were left up to the individual groups.
...That changed at Paris this year.
...Officials from Mississippi’s Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties joined with
counterparts from the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and Mobile Airport Authority in 40
meetings with prospects - 80 percent of the meetings.
...Freeland said that his county has worked with Mobile for years, in part because so many
workers cross state lines. They long ago recognized that what’s good for one is good for the
...“But it was new this year in that for the first time local economic development agencies
collaborated on pre-determined meetings,” said Freeland, who thinks it had an impact. “We
demonstrated to the industry that we really understand regionalism.”
...No doubt the air show is a great place to underscore the resolve to maintain the regional
...The International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport is the oldest and largest air show,
held every other year. Designed to let aerospace companies show their products to military and
commercial buyers, this year’s show had 2,113 exhibitors from 45 countries, 151,500
professional visitors, 204,000 from the general public and 3,250 journalists from 80 countries.
...For economic development groups, the gathering of so many companies at one location is an
opportunity to make contacts and build relationships with a variety of companies spread
throughout the world. This year, it was a chance to show that even though the tanker project
is no longer on the table, regionalism is still alive.
...At past air shows, when EADS was still in the running for the tanker project, it was easy to
show regional cooperation. EADS planned to build a $600 million plant at Mobile’s Brookley
Aeroplex, and that would lead to an influx of suppliers. South Mississippi and Northwest
Florida likely would have benefitted. And without a tanker on the table?
...“I think we would have lost some credibility if we had changed that approach,” said
...If anything, the joint meetings may have ratcheted up regionalism a notch or two. But the
benefits of the strength in numbers approach seems clear.
...Economic development officials in South Mississippi and Alabama recognize that talking
about their combined strengths may have a bigger impact on prospects than going it alone.
South Mississippi recognized that as far back as 2006, when it began marketing the combined
aerospace assets along the Mississippi coast. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic
Development, a partnership of the South Mississippi counties, points out what they have in
common as well as their different, complementary assets.
...South Mississippi and South Alabama also have a lot in common: each has a site that was a
finalist for aircraft assembly plants; each has a commercial airport with significant aerospace
activities, including military and MRO; each has interests in unmanned aerial systems –
Mississippi has a UAV production center and in Mobile the Coast Guard has been developing a
UAV training program; and each is in a state that has targeted aerospace.
...But there are also significant, complementary differences that often make them go after
...“We each have unique assets and capabilities,” said Wayman, that when combined brings a
lot to the table and strengthens each of the areas.
...Wayman said that to international companies the state lines are less important than overall
capabilities and assets of the region. It makes sense to partner with neighbors to show the
assets in the best possible light.
...Typically South Mississippi and South Alabama don’t compete for the same projects,
Wayman said. When Mobile and South Mississippi started discussing joint meetings, they
found only two meetings in common.
Links of a chain
...What seems quite obvious is that proximity determines how closely one area works with
another. Mobile County and Jackson County are neighbors and form a link in a broader chain.
Same, too, with Jackson, Harrison and Hancock counties. And for the county along the coast
furthest to the west, there’s an obvious link formed with Louisiana.
...Kim Compton of the Hancock County Development Commission said the same thing that
happens with Mobile and Jackson County also occurs in Hancock County, home of NASA’s
Stennis Space Center (SSC), and its neighbor to the west.
...Activities at SSC are of high interest to people in St. Tammany Parish, which accounts for
nearly a quarter of SSC personnel, only slightly less than the 28 percent that come from Pearl
River County, Miss.
...Hancock, Pearl River, St. Tammany and Orleans all have an interest in space activities. In
addition to SSC, there’s the NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility just 40 miles away in New
Orleans. Any project at Stennis or Michoud is of high interest to all four county/parishes.
...“In the event that a similar project (similar to the tanker project) is on the table in the future
at Stennis or Michoud, we’d pursue the same partnership with St. Tammany Parish,” said
...Arnie Williams, executive director of Mississippi Power’s economic development arm, said
his impression is that companies were pleased to see South Mississippi and Mobile working
together, and he thinks they liked the resources brought to the table.
...“I think they got it,” he said.
...Wayman also thinks the joint meetings impressed prospects, showing them that locating in
either South Mississippi or South Alabama would get the “buy-in” from the other.
...The tanker project was proof of that. Both Mobile and South Mississippi were finalists when
EADS was looking for a place to assemble tankers. A site in Hancock County lost to Mobile’s
Brookley complex. But when the tanker competition became a fight between Washington
State/Boeing against Mobile/EADS, South Mississippi was an advocate for Mobile.
...And that’s a significant consideration when it comes to a regional approach. All along the
Gulf Coast they’ll fight to get a project, but when one of them lands it, they become
supporters because it helps the entire region.
...Despite the joint meetings, there were still a lot of get togethers that were left to the
individual economic development teams.
...Wayman said there were a dozen meetings that Mobile representatives had with industries
that already have operations in Mobile County. He described others as long-term relationship
...Compton said she participated in two meetings with top management of active prospects,
and she thinks those meetings put South Mississippi ahead of other communities.
...“It has made a significant difference,” she said about the face-to-face, but provided no
further details. – David Tortorano
Taking cooperation to a new level