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Promoting economic growth while maintaining a robust business climate seems like a walk in the park for the team at Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). Living up to its global reputation as a powerhouse for manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, and transportation, MDA sets the bar higher for competing states providing opportunities for exporters, investors, and industry diversification. 

“A lot of people may have certain impressions of Mississippi, but I can assure you, we have a lot going on here,” explains Gena Lentz, MDA’s director of Foreign Investment.

Lentz brings more than 25 years of international trade promotion experience for the state of Mississippi. While working on helping exporters in the Magnolia State transport products to Asia, Lentz further developed her role with MDA, evolving to investment recruiting alongside her agency’s international representatives in Yokohama, Japan, and Seoul, South Korea. 

The authority does not stop there, though. Adding to its already diverse economic climate, MDA is currently laser-focused on the European market, specifically Germany. By closing the gap in global representation, MDA will boast a fully developed international team.

“Europe is an especially important market for Mississippi, serving as a major source of investment,” Lentz says. “We continue to work projects from Germany with our goal being a full-time representative promoting the state with boots on the ground recruiting investment, promoting the state, promoting exports from the state and developing investment leads.” 

Previously, MDA had representation in both Germany and the United Kingdom. This year, however, the team continues to take steps in re-focusing efforts for a new approach to European representation by reprioritizing to better meet the needs of international clients and investors. 

Extensive History within European Manufacturers

Manufacturing represents one of the Mississippi’s leading industries. An example of this is Continental Tire located just west of the state’s capitol of Jackson. Continental’s massive 5 million-square-foot+ facility is the home of all things tire production, representing a $1.45 billion investment in the state. Looking ahead to the future and plans for growth, Continental plans on developing a workforce of 2,500 employees through 2028. Since launching tire production at the Jackson facility, the company has already hit the 500-employee mark. 

“Continental Tire represents an extraordinarily strong partnership between MDA and the local economic development organization of Hinds County, local authorities and Entergy Energy,” Lentz explained. “Economic development is very much of a team sport. Locating a large company such as Continental requires strong teamwork and trust on all sides, and this was a great example of strong teamwork between so many different partners and it’s something that we’re really proud of.”

Mississippi’s manufacturing sector is just as diversified as the variety of sectors found in the state. Ardagh Group is another example of this. The global company is best known for metal and glass packaging but recently started manufacturing the famous slim-can design that continues to outshine the traditional can shape for soft drink products. When the company decided to add the manufacturing lines necessary to accomplish this, Mississippi was able to provide the workforce and the facility needed to do so. 

“Ardagh went through a major expansion to change and manufacture the slim design of the beverage cans to accommodate the shift to this design,” Lentz said. “By doing so, they added 80 new jobs as part of their facility expansion in Olive Branch, Mississippi, and will add two new production lines to manufacture beverage cans.”

John Rounsaville, MDA’s executive director, adds that Swiss-based technology-driven company ABB announced an expansion in 2019 at its Senatobia location, while Japan-based Ajinomoto Foods manufactures specialty frozen foods in Oakland while undergoing several expansions to accommodate its growth and to meet an increase in demand.

“The list of global companies that call Mississippi home and maintain successful operations in the state is ongoing,” Rounsaville said. “These companies realize the benefits and advantages of doing business in our state, as evidenced by continued investments in their Mississippi operations and the creation of thousands of jobs for Mississippi’s workers.”

And the list keeps going . . . Mississippi has been home to a Rolls-Royce facility since 2007. The British company is located at Stennis Space Center–just off the coast of Mississippi. According to Lentz, the company benefits from an outdoor testing facility for jet engines used in the aerospace sector. Additionally, Columbia, Mississippi. is home to Zodiac Parachute, and its parent company Safran. Safran is a French-owned company known for producing military-grade parachutes and has a history with NASA and some of its space missions. 

Automotive Sector Drives Mississippi’s Success

Adding to the broad-ranging business presence that MDA supports, the automotive industry has experienced significant growth in recent years.

“Nissan started production in 2003 and was our first OEM,” says Lentz in reference to original equipment manufacturers. “Currently, Nissan has manufactured the Titan truck, the Frontier truck and the Altima. The automotive supply chain and all that Toyota and Nissan have accomplished over the years is fascinating. Nissan has approximately 5,200 employees now. Among suppliers here is a large company called Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi along with a network of other suppliers. Typical of the automotive sector, once you locate the large OEM manufacturers, you then have an opportunity for smaller companies to locate close by who need to supply products to the OEMs.” 

Lentz went on to explain that the automotive sector currently dominates. This does not come as a huge surprise considering the state has two large automotive OEMs that began operations just a couple of years apart. North Mississippi’s town of Blue Springs has been home to Toyota since 2011, when manufacturing on the Corolla model began in Mississippi. Fast-forward to today and the Corolla is now their primary model manufactured in Blue Springs. Lentz credits Toyota’s robust employee pool consisting of 2,500 workers as a representation of the strong, positive work culture found at the facility.

In recent years, there has been significant success with smaller German automotive companies in Mississippi.

Variety is the Key

“Beyond Japan and Germany, Canada, the UK and Switzerland are other markets included in our network,” Lentz added. “For some, it is surprising that the state has this kind of investment variety. With 26 countries and 200 different facilities, it’s something to be proud of.”

From family-owned German companies with a strong emphasis on technology and engineering to smaller distribution facilities and companies in aerospace, Mississippi truly does set the bar higher in providing market advancements for all types of companies. An example of this extended network is found with the presence of Swiss manufacturer ABB, which has several facilities throughout the state focused on electrical manufacturing.

“Another factor that differentiates Mississippi is that we understand how important it is to have industrial sites that are ready to go for companies,” Lentz says. “Typically, when companies start looking for a new facility, they are on a very tight timeline and do not have time for the due diligence reports. Local economic development organizations, utility companies in Mississippi and MDA each have programs that are designed to help make sure that we have industrial sites that are available and ready to go without delay.”  

The state’s infrastructure and transportation options are nothing short of remarkable while equally competitive for companies looking to expand or relocate. MDA takes into consideration all factors for businesses while proactively maintaining the state’s strong interstate systems and five class one rails. 

Mississippi’s Project Ready sites are paired with a well-prepared and highly competitive team of economic development professionals with success and risk mitigation at the top of mind. The extensive partner network of developers, utility partners, community colleges and research universities, and infrastructure all work together to position companies for success and growth. The global network established by MDA has proven resilient and shows no signs of slowing down in the face of market disruptions. 

“Our excellent transportation network includes six interstate highways and 14 federal highways; 76 airports, including two international airports; dozens of rail systems that serve 2,500 miles of track throughout the state; and 15 ports found along Mississippi’s three navigable waterways,” Rounsaville explained. “The Mississippi River borders the state to the west, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway borders the state to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico forms Mississippi’s border to the south. Mississippi boasts two deep water ports along the Gulf of Mexico, allowing companies convenient, quick access internationally.”

The exceptional setup in Mississippi further reiterates the state’s position as an economic development powerhouse prepared to accommodate even the most complex of business operations. The Port of Gulfport is the No. 2 port in U.S. for fruits and vegetables. Mississippi’s structured approach in supporting international growth is evident in the state’s 2019 export numbers (see charts).

Incentivized Growth Abounds 

“Our trade managers provide business assistance–including educational, marketing and referral services–to small- and medium-sized companies aspiring to sell products and services outside the United States,” says Luigi Dominighini, MDA’s senior manager, International Trade. 

Through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)-funded Mississippi State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), MDA can offer small businesses financial assistance to help defray many of the costs associated with exporting for the first time or with exporting to new international markets, Dominighini noted. 

“Our footprint is seen throughout our global offices in Santiago, Chile, South Korea and Japan,” he says.

For companies seeking a region with historically strong export operations, Mississippi should be at the top of the list.

MDA’s International Trade Mission takes a granular approach to globalization. From travel support, market research, industry briefings and meeting coordination for international trade missions, exporters are provided the opportunity to meet with foreign prospects without driving up costs. MDA works to pre-qualify buyers, distributors and other business representatives. 

Additional resources provided by MDA include workshops and seminars for exporters. Dominighini adds that not only do these resources serve as an extension for added network partner opportunities, but they support MDA’s International Trade Office mission to develop long-term growth and job creation with the globalization of the state’s economy at the top of mind.

“The seminars we host cover market-specific topics and provide technical information on all aspects of the international business process,” Dominighini added. “Comprehensive guides on all aspects of exporting and importing are available to Mississippi businesses through MDA’s International Trade Office. Exporting companies including Thomasson Company, a certified Women’s Business Enterprise, and Hyperion Technologies are just a couple of the success stories we’re proud to have in the state.” 

Planting the Seeds for Growth

Adding to its global network, Mississippi has witnessed a breakthrough for the state’s agriculture sector. In September 2019, Mississippi was confirmed for the first time in history as part of Taiwan’s Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission. Representatives with the Taiwan Vegetable Oil Manufacturers Association along with the Taiwan Feed Industry Association confirmed the purchase of 96 million bushels of soybeans (estimated value of $1.1 billion) and 197 million bushels of corn (estimated value of about $1.1 billion).

In the announcement, it was confirmed farmers in the states of Mississippi, Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska would supply soybeans and corn, with the total amount divided between the states based on negotiations of producers and buyers. Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson expressed his delight with the news in the released statement: 

“These efforts will create new markets for Mississippi’s soybean and corn farmers and will potentially create new trade opportunities for other agriculture commodities as well.”

Mississippi Does It With Teamwork

Between forward-thinking strategies and proactive solutions for all types of businesses, MDA continues to raise the bar for competing states with its team of experienced and business-minded professionals.

“Mississippi’s representation makes a concerted effort to create an environment that has a pro-business climate, from low taxes to competitive operating costs, including the utility costs for manufacturers and large facilities,” Lentz says.

Considering the reputation utility costs have for running operations, this an especially important part of how MDA stays five steps ahead on the company’s behalf. MDA ensures a constant, strong relationship with all the region’s utility partners. This network provides a safeguard for reliable power for operations while driving down costs for manufacturers and other businesses.

When it comes to workforce development, MDA’s impressive partner portfolio proactively prepares companies for long-term growth while meeting them where they are in the present. An example of this is Hinds Community College, an institution incredibly involved with workforce development to further support the foreign direct investment climate in the state.

“MDA works closely with both international and domestic prospects to really understand their workforce needs,” Lentz says. “From the very inception of the project, we can work with companies to understand the labor market, looking at specific skillsets in the state so companies understand the market and what type of existing labor force is offered here. We are proud of our extraordinarily strong community college system throughout the state, totaling 15 community colleges in different regions. These colleges represent strong partners with us and customized training for companies, based on their needs.”

Without a proactively prepared workforce, expanding and relocating companies are cut short. One of the many differences found in Mississippi is the management of resources to ensure success from the start. The team at MDA understands what it takes for project success. They ensure that all training needs are met, from workforce training to workforce funds needed.

“We are well aware that a top priority for companies seeking to locate or expand operations is access to a well-trained pipeline of workers,” Rounsaville says. “Mississippi has made developing the country’s best workforce its top priority. In conjunction with the state’s community colleges and universities, the state guarantees companies quality, customized workforce training programs. As companies grow and evolve, so must their employees.”

In addition to preparing incoming companies for building their workforce, training resources along with needed funds are at the top of mind. The professionals at MDA work to provide these resources for companies so they can focus on establishing operations without delay or roadblocks.

“We work with our existing companies to support their workforce training initiatives, so their employees continue to not only meet–but exceed–their expectations as they grow and adapt to changing trends and consumer needs,” Rounsaville says. “To supplement the state’s workforce training, the MS Works Fund was enacted in 2016 to provide an additional $50 million over 10 years to enhance training at our community colleges. Seventy-five percent of the funds are allotted for new job training, and 25 percent of the funds are for training existing employees.”

Additionally, the state offers a variety of alternatives based on individual company needs. These options include Mississippi’s Workforce Investment Network job centers, on-the-job training and more to support the company’s bottom line while reducing training costs. Not only does this approach support the growth of the state’s industries, but it lowers costs for the companies while creating jobs for the community. 

“We realize in today’s market having a talented workforce that is very easily trained in new techniques is so important,” Lentz says. “Beyond our community college partners, there are other workforce partners who play a crucial role. This is one of the many strengths found in the state: How we work to understand our business prospect’s needs and how we try to customize what they need to make sure that they train their workforce.” 

COVID-19 Can’t Keep Mississippi Down

Despite the variety of disruptions created by the pandemic throughout 2020, MDA proved to be more than prepared. While other development authorities scrambled, MDA’s exemplary leadership and business-minded strategies carried its business climate through one of the most disruptive times in recent years. 

“We hope to get back to more of the in-person meetings in 2021, and we’re certainly continuing to do that online through virtual meetings,” Lentz says. “Our team of seven project managers have continued to participate in virtual site visits for new investment projects while upholding a proactive schedule.”

In other words, the pandemic has not given the team at MDA any reason to slow down in terms of working with business prospects and meeting the needs for successful operations. Quite the opposite, in fact. MDA focused on efforts for the future, rather than becoming caught off-guard with economic uncertainty. As of now, leadership continues to focus on building its existing target industries while exploring options to further develop its European footprint. Even though the pandemic is still a concern for our nation, MDA continues providing solutions for market disruptions now and beyond COVID.  

“Moving beyond 2020, which as we know has been an incredibly challenging year in many regards, the goal of the Mississippi Development Authority remains the same as it has been for years: to build stronger communities and economies for Mississippians through new investment and job creation,” Rounsaville says.

“Throughout 2021, the MDA team will continue working to grow advanced manufacturing, health care and aerospace. We also are committed to growing the state’s tech industry. Leading global tech companies are increasingly finding their niche in Mississippi, and we will continue working to attract more high-tech companies to the state. These are the jobs of the future, and the state has already taken many proactive measures, such as the creation of the MS Coding Academies, to ensure we have a workforce ready to fill these in-demand jobs of the future.” 

Mississippi remains front and center for globally-minded professionals seeking a healthy economic climate for growth–even during a pandemic. For those companies already established in the state, Rounsaville affirmed that they can also look forward to continued efforts from economic development professionals and partners throughout the state.  

“Mississippians are known for their work ethic and commitment to quality, and MDA and our partners are committed to continuing our efforts to ensure companies have a skilled workforce in place for generations to come. Their continued investment in our state serves as a strong testament to other global companies that Mississippi means business. We work hard to provide our global partners with a strong business environment that allows them to maintain their competitive edge and find lasting success in our state,” Rounsaville concludes.

To learn more about the Mississippi Development Authority, please visit: