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Robert Trigaux

Swoope? Florida's new economic development chief must make culture leap from Mississippi



grayswoopeincomingenterprisefloridachief.jpgWake up and good morning. The last guy to run Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development arm, was classically named John Adams and came out of a dusty Texas border town. The newly proposed successor, with the equally remarkable name of Gray Swoope (photo left), runs Mississippi's economic development efforts under Gov. (and emerging 2012 presidential wannabe) Haley Barbour.

Who is Swoope? Here's his bio at the Mississippi Development Authority. The early take is Florida Gov. Rick Scott chose him (after booting Adams) because Swoope allegedly helped lure big names like Toyota and GE Aviation to build facilities in Mississippi. That's swell, though I doubt the auto industry would consider doing much in Florida (we're geographically inefficient for large-scale manufacturing. goes the the old argument, and we have no auto industry cluster to build on here). And let me state the obvious: for all its admirable efforts, Mississippi retains a backwater reputation in this country, thin on a 21st century economy and thinner on quality education. Mississippi also prides itself, correctly, as the deepest of the Deep South. But it's a culture that has little if anything to do with the vast majority of Florida.

Let's hope Swoope can transcend those roots at a time when Florida itself is trying to make a quantum leap to a more sophisticated economic base.

I guess there's consolation that Mississippi has a 10.2 percent unemployment rate while Florida's is 12 percent.

The big difference with Swoope is that he will not only head Enterprise Florida for Gov. Scott but he will also head the new state Commerce Department, Scott explains in his letter sent to Enterprise Florida Vice Chairman Hal Melton. Scott had resurrected the state agency years after it had been dismantled in favor of Enterprise Florida. Now Swoope, under Scott's obviously very guiding hand, will run both agencies in some kind of a two-pronged economic development strategy.

Here's a bit more on Swoope's actual track record. At a recent winter meeting of the Mississippi Development Authority, Swoope likened the state's economic development effort in the last seven years to a marathon marked by the devastation of both Hurricane Katrina and the worst economic recession of modern times. "Everything but locusts," he jokingly added, says this Jackson Clarion Ledger story.

The Mississippi newspaper story adds these tidbits. Swoope talks of streamlining economic development efforts so multiple agencies are on the same page. That skill may be put to the test as he figures out what the new Commerce Department is doing that Enterprise Florida is not. And his authority's tourism division last month unveiled its "Find Your True South" promotional campaign for the state.

It's early. We'll know more soon.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 7:11am]


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