Rohrlack: Meridian on right track

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
April 15, 2002
Mississippi's chief economic development officer was in Meridian last week meeting with local media and business leaders.
Bob Rohrlack Jr. has been serving as the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority for more than five months.
During his term, Mississippi has seen the prospect of Hyundai opening an auto manufacturing plant slip away.
He met with The Meridian Star's Editorial Board to discuss economic development topics.
The Meridian Star: In dealing with the prospect of landing an auto manufacturing plant in a community, how do you get the local residents to buy into the fact that the facility has to be in place before the manufacturer can come? And how do you rationalize to them that all of the money spent toward creating a presentable industrial site is important and can produce a positive end result?
Rohrlack: A big part of that is the communication within the community. There may be something that kept us from being successful in the past and we're determined that it's not going to hold us back again. That's the kind of attitude you have to have. You have to deal with the problems you're having.
So whatever the issues are that the community thinks might be holding it back, the community has to openly show what it's doing to fix the problem.
The Star: What is the perception of Meridian statewide?
Rohrlack: The way people describe Meridian to me was that is has a lot going for it, but it's focusing negatively on its areas that need to be worked on. In other words, we've got this but we can't do it because we have this problem. Instead of, we've got this and if we take care of this problem we can be better and do more.
And a lot of that is just determining which way you want to focus on what you want to do. Every city is going to have their problems, but it's how you deal with those that's going to make the difference.
If you try to bury them, it's never going to go away. If you're constantly looking in the mirror to see what can be done to fix it, then you're on the right track.
The Star: In the Hyundai case, didn't the company identify some problems it had with the Pelahatchie site back in December?
Rohrlack: Hyundai's concern was that there was a church and a cemetery on the east end of the site and how could we reconfigure around it keeping the total number of acres that they wanted. We backed away and looked at the map again, we decided to come across the Interstate and make the whole thing a bigger site. Let's see if that works.
We winded up giving them such a big site they could have put their building in three different locations on that site.
There was a very mixed Mississippi message. And I stress Mississippi. We weren't unified as a group, as a state. I was pretty surprised that we didn't make the cut.
His (Hyundai president Kim Dong-jin) concern was the cemetery and the church and getting around that. That was the only concern that he expressed and we were able to work around that rather quickly. I think if I had an unlimited bank account, there are some things I would have done to make that site more appealing visually. But that's part of the learning curve. In the future we'll have to clean it up for future projects.

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