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Keeping up with Bob

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
April 14, 2002
I asked Mississippi Development Authority executive director Bob Rohrlack last week which sectors of economic development beyond automotive manufacturing hold promise for Mississippi.
His answer was surprising: communications and agriculture. Like several of his predecessors, he believes a communications cluster in central Mississippi can be built around Worldcom's dominating presence.
He believes work on polymers  particularly a new type of contaminant-free paint produced at the University of Southern Mississippi that uses castor and soybeans as key ingredients can prompt a rebirth of Mississippi agriculture.
He didn't mention two sectors we've always thought hold tremendous promise in Mississippi transportation and distribution, and high-tech. Meridian is said to be strategically positioned in both.
In Meridian the other day at the East Mississippi Business Development Corp.'s Business Before Hours breakfast, Rohrlack spoke of his economic development experience in Florida and the Gators. He said he was making a point about community support for economic development and evidently he was using the best example he has from his own personal experience. We reported what he said on page A1 that day.
Bob's only been in Mississippi and at MDA for five months and, so far, the biggest news coming from MDA is how Hyundai took its billion-dollar automotive manufacturing plant to Alabama. Maybe a few lessons were learned in the process that will help later.
While in Meridian, though, Bob never once acknowledged he was speaking from behind a lectern with the Mississippi State seal on it or that he was breakfasting on the campus of MSU-Meridian. According to my notes and memory, and I admit my memory isn't what it once was, he never mentioned the absolutely critical role of MSU in Meridian's redevelopment efforts. The Riley Education and Performing Arts Center, Grand Opera House and a variety of other programs and projects are all benefiting from MSU's involvement and commitment. So are the people of East Mississippi because higher education is a huge resource for economic development.
Bob didn't mention Bulldogs or Jackie Sherrill. Even though I went to Ole Miss, I thought it was just a slight oversight on his part, and noted as much in a column I wrote for last Wednesday's paper.
No big deal. A little touch of humor in a busy news day. Besides, most everyone in the auditorium knew where they were anyway.
Later in the week, as reported by a reliable source, Bob visited Columbus, where he did take note of his surroundings, said he knew he was in Bulldog country, recounted a little lesson from his Meridian trip and essentially said that ole editor at The Meridian Star had missed his point on why he talked about Florida. Thanks for reading my work, Bob.
Bob seems to be a nice guy. Looks good. Says the right words. Smart. Makes a good impression. Has a master's degree in economic development from USM. Deserves continuing education units for the legislative session just ended. Likes to travel. Still learning about Mississippi, MDA and the process of economic development, though. Has some real internal issues regarding budget cuts, staffing, learning who to trust, that sort of thing. Needs to find out and say publicly how bad information on rates of union membership in Mississippi found its way into Hyundai's packet. Sloppy work on somebody's part, no doubt.
Stay focused on East Mississippi, Bob. We ought to be next in line for a major economic development project. You're always welcome over here and we need your help.

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