COLUMBUS, Miss. — A regional economic development director is criticizing the Mississippi agency that seeks to bring jobs to the state.
Joe Max Higgins is chief executive officer of Golden Triangle Development LINK, based in Columbus. He told The Commercial Dispatch that he believes Mississippi Development Authority leaders have a combative relationship with local and regional development groups. Higgins said MDA director Glenn McCullough tries to dictate where companies will locate.
The newspaper reported that McCullough declined its request for an interview, but MDA spokesman Jeff Rent said companies choose the sites that fit their needs.
Higgins also said Mississippi economic development is hurt by the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag, which critics see as racist, and by a law signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in 2016, which says employees of government agencies or private businesses can cite their own religious beliefs to deny services to LGBT people.
“I know the flag’s a charged issue, and I’m sure a lot of people believe if it goes to a vote, the good ol’ boys will come out and vote to keep it like they did before,” Higgins said. “But I think the dynamic has changed because enough people believe if the flag even could be a problem, it should be changed.”
Bryant has said if the flag design is to be reconsidered, it should be done by a statewide vote. People who voted in a 2001 election chose to keep the flag that has been used since 1894.
Rent told the Commercial Dispatch that MDA does not take a position for or against either the flag or the religious objections law.
“Those are social, political things,” Rent said. “We don’t have a say in those.”
McCullough is a Republican former mayor of Tupelo and who became chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority board. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed McCullough to lead MDA in June 2015.
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 improve the situation.
“We could be in a five-year funk if we don’t watch it,” Higgins said. “They need to get leadership in there to develop a plan and give them the resources they need to implement it.”
Higgins — known for often using profanity to express himself — said he does not want McCullough’s job.
“First of all, I’d have to take a pay cut,” Higgins said. “I also don’t have the temperament to deal with the Legislature on the level I’d have to in that role.”