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Creativity, passion and attention to detail provide winning combination in economic development

Posted April 30, 2024 in News

Winning coaches will tell you that big wins aren’t achieved during the minutes on the field or the court. They’re made in the hours of practice, reps in the gym and the time spent watching game film and studying their opponents. The same can be said of economic development. The big wins, such as the Amazon Web Services investment announced recently, are years in the making. The research, discussions and established partnerships provide the foundation for landing the deal.

Just like in sports, it also takes a great team to get the big win in economic development. Entergy Mississippi’s economic development team brings a variety of skill sets to the table to help attract business and industry to the state and help those already located here to expand. One aspect that sets Entergy Mississippi’s economic development team apart is that three of its members are women in a field that is filled predominantly by men.

Christine Pate, business recruitment project manager; Stacy Lester, business recruitment project manager; and Lauren Gurtowski, business expansion and retention representative, came into the field via different pathways but have each worked in economic development on local and state levels before joining Entergy Mississippi’s team. Lester was a science major whose University of Southern Mississippi professor introduced her to the field of economic development. Pate was pursuing a graduate degree in urban and regional planning when she was offered a job in economic development for the City of Jackson. Gurtowski’s major in international business at Mississippi State University led to a position in the international trade division of the Mississippi Development Authority. How they arrived here may be different but they all share a passion for economic development.

“Knowing you’re making an impact in the communities we serve is very rewarding,” said Gurtowski. “The ultimate goal is to help our communities grow and help Mississippi succeed. This growth leads to new jobs created and additional tax revenue, which can be used to improve the quality of life for residents.”

The variety and fast pace of working in the field are also appealing.

“There is always something new to learn,” said Pate. “There is no formula, so you always have to go outside what you already know.”

The variety of projects, relationships formed and information gathered to provide to companies considering Mississippi for their next location or expansion also keeps the job interesting.

“Every day is different,” said Lester. “You learn to lean on your network and the expertise within the company and externally. I enjoy being an ambassador and promoting the benefits of our Entergy served communities and the state. In addition to building strong relationships, you also have to understand and convey a lot of technical information.”

Conveying technical information begins with understanding the expertise within your network and collecting information from a wide variety of sources. Meeting with site selectors and company representatives may make up a significant portion of the job, but preparing for those meetings is what makes the meetings successful.

“The work beneath the surface, such as gathering data, helping communities develop industrial sites and understanding the financing component, makes all the difference,” said Pate. “We also have to understand Entergy’s assets and be able to articulate that information.”

In a field that has been traditionally male-dominated, Entergy Mississippi’s economic development team stands out for its female representation. All three note that early in their careers, it was not uncommon to be the only woman in the room at meetings. Over time, they have witnessed a shift in the profession to be more inclusive of women. Due to this increased representation, more women feel comfortable entering the field of economic development.

“I love being able to travel outside Mississippi and change people’s perceptions about our state,” said Pate. “Having a supportive family is helpful because of the travel and sometimes meetings are held in the early morning or run later in the evening, especially when working with companies headquartered in different time zones. Having a strong support system helps me keep track of everything and gives me the time to accomplish what needs to be done.”

In addition to having a strong support system at home, having a strong support system at the office is crucial to the team’s success.

“We all have similar experience and skills, so we can lean on each other and step in for one another when needed,” said Lester. “We have strong relationships within our team and don’t mind asking each other for help.”

“We see more women coming into the field,” said Gurtowski. “There are more females in economic development organizations now, and we see more women attending national conferences.”

Other changes in the field that they have witnessed include the use of technology to gather information, which has made more information readily available, but which has also meant that many site selectors already know the baseline of information when they first reach out.

The speed of decision-making has also increased, so economic developers must be responsive and able to analyze data rapidly to match the needs of the companies to the offerings of the communities.

“You have to be more creative in how you market your communities,” said Gurtowski. “It’s a good profession for people who like to solve problems.”

Speed, agility and problem-solving are all skills that winning teams need and are also skills the women on Entergy Mississippi’s economic development team have in abundance.