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Jackson County Economic Development Committee hires advisors to develop growth plan
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Jackson County Economic Development Committee hires advisors to develop growth plan

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A local economic development team has hired a former top Florida official to lead the development of a strategy for growth, and a plan to put it into action.

Former Florida Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope and his team at VisionFirst Advisors are now under contract with the Jackson County Economic Development Committee (JCEDC).

Swoope is president and CEO of VisionFirst Advisors and a former Florida Secretary of Commerce.

In a press release about the decision, JCEDC Chairman Darwin Gilmore talked about the reason for it.

“Jackson County is strategically located along the I-10 corridor with more than 19 million within a 250-mile radius of the county,” Gilmore said. “Now is the time to assess the county’s strengths and assets, positioning it for future growth and job creation. Globally, the competition for jobs and private capital has become increasingly more demanding and aggressive. This is why we selected VisionFirst Advisors to help us develop strategies to increase our competitiveness.”

Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tiffany Garling is part of JCEDC and is serving also as its interim director while that slot is open. She said the organization is well familiar with, and confident in, VisionFirst.

“We went with them because they’d already done work in this region--they had done a report for Opportunity Florida in 2017, and had already studied and are very familiar with our area,” Garling explained. “Gray Swoope is an expert in recovery after disaster,” she said, adding that he was executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority when Hurricane Katrina hit that area. The agency acted as Mississippi’s fiscal agent for a large federal recovery package in the aftermath of that storm.

“We’ve never, to my knowledge, had an economic development strategic plan in Jackson County, and we think this group will really be a help in putting one together. They’ll be doing a lot.” She said the group will eventually identify what it believes, based on the coming research, are the top five industries to target as the community seeks that growth. The process will include several meetings of various stakeholder groups — like businesses, educational leaders and others with common threads, and the distribution of general surveys to get input from a wider variety of people.

She said she did not immediately recall how much VisionFirst will be paid, but said it was far less than $50,000, and more than $25,000.

To start the planning process, VisionFirst will conduct interviews with local stakeholders and will launch an online survey to gather input from the community. In addition to gathering local feedback, VisionFirst will utilize demographic research to compare the region to others in the state and the nation while outlining best practices in economic development activities.

In addition, VisionFirst will work with community leaders to develop a comprehensive approach to connect and direct the efforts of the key stakeholders as each implements its part of a collaborative economic development program of work to achieve measurable goals.

The plan will identify how the community defines economic development success, and will provide a clear course of action, milestones and measures. The overarching goals, strategies and tactics will build upon the existing resources and infrastructure to strategically grow jobs, support businesses and build a collaborative network to grow the economy.

“Florida’s rural communities, like Jackson County, are a vital part of the state’s economic growth. But in order to succeed, counties need to set a vision and align resources,” Swoope said. “We are pleased to be chosen to serve as the catalyst to align both resources and stakeholders to demonstrating a value proposition to the end user.”

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