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What Makes Jackson, Mississippi, One of America’s Fastest-Growing Hubs for Advanced Industry?

Entergy Economic Development: Ed Gardner Jr.

By Ed Gardner, Jr., Director, Business & Economic Development, Entergy Mississippi

Posted May 31, 2017 in Economic Development

It’s always gratifying when something you believe about your community is confirmed by facts from respected outside sources.  That’s how our economic development team at Entergy Mississippi felt about Brookings Institution’s 2016 “America’s Advanced Industries: New Trends” report.

We’re proud of the way Jackson’s local industry, educators and government are collaborating on preparing our workforce for jobs that use cutting-edge technology. The Brookings report substantiates our success: Jackson, Mississippi, ranks as the country’s third best-performing large metro area in advanced industry employment growth.

Our 7.6percent growth rate is just behind San Francisco at 7.9 percent. You’d expect high-profile, high-tech San Francisco to be top-ranked, but why is Jackson right beside it?  The data-rich Brookings report explains it by defining trends across the country and showing why advanced industry is essential to a strong economy and broad-based prosperity.

The Brookings data is so significant that I want to share some highlights and give you a few examples of the “what’s” behind Jackson’s success, including one example of how Entergy is contributing to the growth of advanced manufacturing with a recent grant to Mississippi State University’s Student Technology Exchange Program.

What is Advanced Industry?

The Brookings report defines advanced industry as the high-tech, high-skill technical companies delivering the highest-value in the commercial sector.

For their analysis, advanced industry companies met these criteria: 1) R&D spending per worker among the top 20 percent of industries and 2) share of workers exceeding the national average in STEM knowledge (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Advanced Industry, according to Brookings, is our nation’s main source of “productivity-driving innovation and business models that support higher wages and rising living standards for the average worker.”

The report provides the following data as an indicator that the advanced industry sector has a broad impact on the prosperity of surrounding communities and the nation: “The sector’s substantial ‘multiplier effect’ means that every new advanced industry job creates 2.2 additional jobs domestically: 0.8 jobs locally and 1.4 outside the region.”

And beyond the job-creating multiplier effect, each company’s use of new technology and innovative practices extends beyond their walls through business networks and by example into the neighboring industries and community. We see this happening in Jackson.

Automotive Manufacturing as a Catalyst

The Brookings analysis showed that the nation’s recent growth in advanced industry was driven primarily by auto manufacturing and tech service industries.

This is true in the Jackson metro area, where Nissan opened its Canton plant in 2003 and brought the first automotive manufacturing to Mississippi. Today more than 6,400 people work at the Nissan Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant, which has become a global manufacturer of award-winning cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs.

The presence of Nissan has inspired other auto companies and suppliers to set up operations in the state and in the Jackson metro area. Today, we’re welcoming Continental AG to our community. Its $1.45 billion tire plant is slated to go online in 2020 and create as many as 2,500 jobs.

Another indicator of advanced industry’s footing in the Jackson metro area is the Brookings location quotient analysis measuring how industries are concentrated compared to national averages. This data shows that the Jackson metro area has 11 different advanced industries that employ more workers as a share of total employment than the nation does.

Among these advanced industries, nine have a high level of concentrated employment that qualifies as specialization. In addition to Motor Vehicle Body and Trailers and Motor Vehicle Parts, the Jackson metro area has employment specializations in these advanced industries: Pesticides and Fertilizers, Electrical Equipment, Wireless Telecom Carriers, Data Processing and Hosting, Engine and Power Equipment, Ships and Boats and Miscellaneous Chemicals.

What the data shows is that Jackson has become a diversified industrial hub for advanced industries. This contributes to a favorable, sustainable economy, where the growth of a technological workforce and productive practices in one industry benefits others. 

Research and Training Grow and Sustain Advanced Industry

Jackson business and civic leaders understand that industry research and professional training are the lifeblood of advanced industry. We have many outstanding programs that support research and provide training and degree programs in advanced industry skills in K-12, technical schools, community colleges and universities.

For example, our local industry and community has partnerships with MSU, which is repeatedly ranked among the nation’s top 100 research institutions by the National Science Foundation. In the most recent survey, including 2015 data, three of MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering disciplines were rated in the top 50 for R&D expenditures, including mechanical at 24th, aeronautical and astronautical at 37th and electrical at 49th. Expenditures in computer science were nearly $10 million — placing MSU in the top 50 nationally.

MSU research feeds into local workforce training. An excellent example of this is the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) Extension, a unit of MSU and its Engineering School. Their on-site projects and training supports Mississippi’s local  automotive manufacturers and other industries through the application of engineering technologies and best practices.

Their partners are federal agencies, state agencies and associations, industry (including Entergy), university and community colleges (including Holmes Community College in the Jackson metro area) and K-12 public schools. 

Education Fuels Cycle of Success

One example of the extensive training curriculum offered through CAVS is MSU’s Student Technology Exchange Program. Partnering with Mississippi school districts, the program helps prepare students for the world of work by exposing them to state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment at the Canton Nissan plant. Nissan initiated the program in 2004, and it includes a year-long regimen of both classroom learning and hands-on training at Nissan’s facility. STEP gives students the fundamental understanding of technology to pursue a middle-skills job or an engineering education at a four-year institution.

At the 2016 STEP graduation ceremony, Entergy Mississippi President and CEO Haley Fisackerly delivered keynote remarks to graduates and announced a $150,000 grant from Entergy to promote the growth of STEP, which he credited with “doing a great job of helping Mississippi high school students get the skills and education they need for in-demand jobs.”

The grant to STEP reflects Entergy’s commitment to communities in our service areas across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. This grant is part of a five-year, $5 million workforce development initiative Entergy launched in 2016 to support training required by complex technologies.

This focus on advanced industry technology rankings, research and training programs is really about people and giving them the tools to thrive. Entergy’s vision is “We Power Life,” and this cycle of success is what it’s all about.

Key Industries

Advanced Materials, Automotive Manufacturing, Chemical Products

Entergy Economic Development: Ed Gardner Jr.

Ed Gardner recently joined Entergy Mississippi as the Director of Economic Development after working for five years as the Northwest Florida economic development representative for PowerSouth Energy Cooperative. Ed’s experience includes positions at the Birmingham (Ala.) Business Alliance (Vice President of Economic Development and Workforce) and the St. Clair County (Ala.) Economic Development Council (Executive Director).