Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins claims the Mississippi Development Authority is undermining — not promoting — economic development efforts in the state.
Higgins, a nationally renowned economic developer who has led the LINK for more than 14 years, said MDA’s philosophy is flawed on numerous fronts, and the organization lacks both the vision and leadership to improve it. He compared MDA’s reorganization efforts in recent years to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Specifically, Higgins leveled his harshest criticism at the MDA director of more than two years, Glenn McCullough — whom he said had surrounded himself with an inexperienced team, could not be depended upon to keep appointments and was trying to be a “king-maker” by dictating where projects locate. As a result, he said, winnable projects are choosing other states.
“What any state really needs is a economic developer’s economic developer,” Higgins told The Dispatch in an exclusive interview that covered a broad swath of industry recruiting challenges facing the state. “(But) in Mississippi, we’ve got Glenn.”
The result, Higgins said, is a combative relationship between local agencies, like the LINK and MDA.
He even said McCullough, during a project where the LINK was competing with Meridian for an aerospace-related project, assigned as project manager the step-daughter of the Meridian Airport director without disclosing it.
“I don’t trust them,” Higgins said. “… And I’m not the only one who feels this way. All my peers are b****ing. Just none of the rest of them will say anything.”
Gov. Phil Bryant appointed McCullough — who had previously served as Tupelo mayor and then chair for the Tennessee Valley Authority board — in June 2015, and Higgins said a leadership change at MDA is imperative. But with Bryant’s final term ending in January 2020, he doubts anyone “effective” could come in and right the ship.
In the meantime, Higgins said, Mississippi suffers.