Jobs top focus for new development director

After two months on the job and putting 4,000 miles on a vehicle traveling the state, the new executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority is talking about “jobs, jobs and more jobs.”

Supporting existing businesses and encouraging new industries, especially in the fields of energy and health care, are goals of the state’s economic development arm, said Brent Christensen, who came to lead the state agency from the Gainesville, Fla., Chamber of Commerce.

“Gov. (Phil) Bryant has charged MDA in doing all we can to support our existing businesses,” said Christensen, who made his first speaking engagement in his official capacity Tuesday to the Madison County Business League. “We want to reach out to existing businesses and through our local partners be thanking them for contributing to and keeping the lines of communication open.

The governor also has asked MDA to work in recruiting and expanding businesses involved in the high growth fields of energy and health care, he said.

“Mississippi is on the cutting edge for fuel technology. We’re open to all comers,” Christensen said.

Jobs in health care, whether it’s medical suppliers, doctors offices, pharmaceuticals or diagnostic imaging, can create high-paying jobs and improve medical access for citizens while having an economic impact on areas, he said.

But companies need trained workers, and that’s an area where Mississippi needs to improve, he said. Across the state, “the workforce is highly variable,” he added, so MDA will emphasize workforce training in the coming months.

“Right now we don’t have workforce training that provides consistency across the board,” Christensen said, adding that MDA will be working with community colleges to create “a robust work force.”

State Sen. Will Longwitz of Madison said community colleges, such as the Ridgeland campus of Holmes Community College, already have a strong worker training program. “All high schools, colleges and universities and community colleges need to be pulling in the same direction on worker training,” he said.

Madison County business leaders applauded Christensen’s proposals to encourage businesses.

By Lucy Webber / The Clarion-Ledger / Aug 7, 2012