It’s one thing to tell people about the Delta’s Rising Star, it’s another thing for them to come to Clarksdale and see it for themselves.
John Rounsaville, newly appointed Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority, visited Clarksdale last week, stopping by several new businesses and industrial expansions that have graced the community over the last 18 months.
Rounsaville said he had been told about the success of economic development in Clarksdale and made a special trip Wednesday to see for himself. Rounsaville has an extensive background in economic development and was picked by Governor Tate Reeves in April to head the state’s top economic development agency.
“We have such a habit of thinking about industrial development and economic development as smokestacks and large factories,” said Rounsaville as he visited People Shores. “While we will continue to seek and attract those types of projects, I don’t think they are always the right fit for many communities. The smaller, tech companies – like PeopleShores – can bring a lot to a community and our state.”
Rounsaville said breaking that mindset and developing a more diverse economy is one of the reasons he and much of his staff came to Clarksdale.
In addition to PeopleShores, Rounsaville also toured a major expansion at Saf-T-Kart, also financed and supported by state economic development dollars.
Rounsaville was accompanied by Joe Donovan, MDA Director of the Entrepreneur Center and Dr.
William Ashley, Director of Business Research and Workforce Development. The group was hosted by Chamber Director and Executive Director of the Economic Development Authority, Jon Levingston.
Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy met with Rounsaville at PeopleShores and thanked them for their visit and support of projects in Clarksdale.
“They work beautifully with Jon Levingston, our local economic developer, James Curcio, the director of the North Delta Planning District, as well as with members of our administration and the owners of our local industries,” said Espy. “The MDA is essential to our future and to bringing new jobs to our community.”
Levingston echoed Espy’s statement.
“We were deeply honored to have MDA’s new Executive Director John Rounsaville spend a day in Clarksdale,” said Levingston. “As the state’s economic development agency, MDA’s support and funding have been critical to the success of all of our projects these past three years.
“They have lent great counsel and guidance to me, significant financial support to our local industries and leadership in the recruitment of new industry for our community,” Levingston added. “John Rounsaville has a tremendous track record of achievement during his career which he brings to his new role as our state’s chief economic developer.”
An Air Force veteran, Rounsaville is an attorney, has worked in Washington for former Congressman Chip Pickering and in the office of Governor Haley Barbour. He has had two tours of duty as the State Director for USDA.
“He is among the most qualified individuals ever to serve as MDA’s Executive Director.” said Levingston. “The MDA is an example of state government at its best.
At PeopleShores, the MDA team had the opportunity to tour the completed work on the building funded by the state and see examples of the Robotic Process Automation software developed in Clarksdale by PeopleShores’ employees.
At Saf-T-Cart, the MDA team toured the plant and examined in-progress construction that will add over 20,000 square feet to the Saf-T-Cart plant and add 20 new jobs to the company.
MDA’s funding of the Saf-T-Cart expansion is building a new truck shop and Rounsaville and his staff saw how their investment in Clarksdale is paying off.
“Right now, maybe we can build four truck beds and trailers at one time,” said Saf-T-Cart vice president Jim Herring. “That truck shop will give us the ability to build up to 10. It will have cranes. It will have a wash station and a place for painting properly. It’s going to be a lot more efficient.”
Saf-T-Cart manufactures cylinder carts, cages, pallets, truck beds and trailers. A pallet can hold 16 to 18 operation cylinders.
“You can roll two cylinders at a time off a 40-foot trailer,” Herring said. “It takes you three hours. It takes you 30 minutes with a forklift picking up pallets with this bank of cylinders to be filled, to take it back out and deliver it. So that’s the tradeoff.”
After seeing the progress at Saf-T-Cart, MDA representatives met with Gov. Tate Reeves to provide a progress report.