Opportunity Florida members and partners recently attended a Familiarity (FAM) Tour of the “Golden Triangle” region in Central Mississippi. The tour, funded in part through a grant from Enterprise Florida, was comprised of local elected officials, county business leaders and economic developers from six counties.
The area in Mississippi known as the Golden Triangle was the subject of a CBS News 60 Minutes segment. The region has seen phenomenal economic growth recently as a result of aggressive economic development efforts led by Joe Max Higgins, GTR-Link CEO. Higgins also credits the leadership provided by various business leaders, as well as state, county and city officials in the region.
Opportunity Florida staff worked with Vision First Advisors to put together this FAM trip to Mississippi. The trip was created to allow members the opportunity to see and hear how a region was able to pull together to create thousands of high paying manufacturing jobs in a rural area that parallels closely with rural Northwest Florida.
Higgins spoke with the group during the visit and talked about the importance of working together as a region. He noted that county officials put forth both time and money to back regional efforts to build four mega-sites and attract the manufacturers. He told the group, “There are a lot of ways to do things right, you need to find your right way.” He has certainly found his right way.
PACCAR, Aurora Flight Systems, Airbus Helicopters and Steel Dynamics are just a few of the manufacturers that Higgins and GTR Link have brought to the Golden Triangle region. The companies opened their doors to the Opportunity Florida group and spoke about their decisions to move to the area. The companies’ leaders echoed Higgins’ comments regarding a regional effort and approach to attract new employers, train its citizens and expand existing businesses. Their employees are happy and the average wages are well over that of the rest of the state.
The GTR Link group is also working hand in hand with their local educational facilities. The East Mississippi Community College has created the Center for Manufacturing Technical Excellence (CMTE). The Center works with companies to teach students the technical skills needed to excel at the manufacturing jobs. Plans are underway to enlarge the Center and will include several bays that will be sponsored by local companies to teach the particular skills needed. The region and state are investing $42 million in the new educational training facility which will be called The Communiversity.
Darrin Wall, Washington County Chamber President, attended the trip. “Opportunity Florida put together an incredible trip. It was an amazing experience to see firsthand the result of leadership, vision and teamwork. We were given valuable insight into what it took to make the area a manufacturing magnet. I’m fortunate to be a part of the diverse and talented team from our region who attended. I look forward to our collaboration as we leverage this into a course of action that will work for us.”
Opportunity Florida Executive Director, Richard Williams said, “Rural Florida and rural Mississippi have both been hit by devastating economic decline.” He continued, “They banded together early and put together significant resources to invest in their region regardless of county lines and regardless of who got the credit. There is a lesson to learn from them and it is our hope that by exposing leaders in our community to that region firsthand we can shake things up here and begin to make a difference that will result in our region becoming a job creation powerhouse that improves the quality of life for everyone.”
Opportunity Florida is a regional economic development organization that represents nine counties and the City of Freeport that make up the Northwest Florida Rural Area of Opportunity (RAO).