aura Hipp, deputy executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, has a simple message for business executives suffering from inflation fatigue: “We have one of the lowest costs of living and one of the lowest tax burdens in the country. If you are looking to move your company out of a high-cost location in a high-tax state, come to Mississippi.”
Hipp says that while the pandemic prompted many firms to move out of expensive locations around the U.S., Mississippi remained red hot and very attractive for many reasons. “We’ve had a strong year for projects,” she says. “Our pipeline is pretty full. There is a huge demand for speed to market; and we’ve made it a priority to address that issue for companies.”
And it’s not just lip service, either. In January, Gov. Tate Reeves announced that the state would invest $25 million into site development. “We identified 20 top sites in Mississippi for larger projects,” says Hipp. “We hope to identify at least 20 more soon.”
The Mississippi legislature set aside another $10 million for sites and $4 million for ports. “Companies want to see us get sites ready,” says Hipp. “We also passed a new incentives program and streamlined our current incentives programs. We streamlined the application process to make it easier for companies to qualify. It’s called MFLEX. A single tax credit is awarded by MDA that the company can apply to its tax liability. That rolls out July 1. We think that will give us a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
That’s not all Mississippi is doing to bolster its business climate. In the following interview, Hipp outlined other measures the state is taking to make the Magnolia State the most competitive business location in the nation.
What were the factors that led Mississippi to remain open more than other states did during COVID-19?
HIPP: Gov. Reeves worked closely with our state health officer. By the summer of 2020, the governor recognized that you have to keep Main Street thriving. Over several months, he slowly lifted restrictions. He knew that businesses could govern themselves as well. That helped a lot of our restaurants and retail shops remain open and thrive. Shopping locally was a big message during the pandemic. Our market responded well to the situation.
How did that help businesses in your state?
HIPP: Our business community was pleased. They had a job to do. They still had widgets to produce. They appreciated it. We learned to be more flexible. We learned how to do teleworking. In short, we adapted to the new reality.
Has Mississippi’s economy fully recovered from the pandemic and ensuing recession?
HIPP: We are doing well. Revenues are up in our coffers. For March, our unemployment rate was 4.2%. It got as high as 15.4% in April 2020.
How has the tourism industry in your state fared over the past couple of years?
HIPP: Because we were open, by Memorial Day Weekend of 2020, our casinos were back open with health and safety guidelines in place. It helped us be one of the top-performing states for tourism in the nation. Mississippi has been one of the top performers in travel
spending since the pandemic started. We also started a robust ad campaign to promote tourism. We are getting that message out that ‘Wanderers are Welcome’ to Mississippi. Because of all the lockdowns around the country during the pandemic, people are wanting to get out and see new places and experience the great outdoors.
What role do Mississippi’s colleges and universities play in facilitating economic development?
HIPP: They are very important partners. We work closely with them. We have a new workforce development office called Accelerate Mississippi. We are mindful of the needs of our employers. We also have some of the best research facilities. We’ve led the way in automotive research with the help of Mississippi State University’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. We have the Mississippi Polymer Institute at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. They’re leading our Blue Economy initiative in marine technology and related fields. And Ole Miss has the Center for Manufacturing Excellence.
Are you encouraged by the economic growth you’re seeing in the Delta region?
HIPP: Yes. We’ve had some good announcements there. A new Milwaukee Tool facility opened in Grenada. It will have 1,200 new jobs at a manufacturing facility and one other location. We are excited about what that will do for the region. It is right on I-55.
A couple of years have passed since Mississippi voted to change the state flag. What impact has that had on business in your state?
HIPP: It sends a positive message about business in the state. We are a modern state, and we are proud to highlight the contributions our citizens make. Our workforce takes pride in a job well done, and this change is reflective of that.
Mississippi has become a national leader in the aerospace and space exploration sectors in recent years. To what do you attribute that growth?
HIPP: Our location in the U.S. We are geographically well positioned for companies and their suppliers. Mississippi has been involved in space exploration since the 1960s with the Stennis Space Center. Adranos located in South Mississippi and created over 50 jobs there. Relativity is at Stennis Space Center, and they are growing. GE Aviation is here and they are building pieces of rockets that are in space right now. Our workforce is very knowledgeable in that sector.
What is Mississippi’s best-kept secret?
HIPP: The quality of life offered here cannot be matched anywhere else. It is a very green, beautiful and lush state. We have great rivers for kayaking and canoeing. There is a great music and food scene here. We just want to share the untold story of Mississippi.
Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.