On Economic Development: An Interview with Executive Director, Gwen Howard

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippi had the 33rd highest unemployment rate in the country last month. The Bureau also reported that Mississippi experienced a significant decrease in employment, when compared to last year’s employment numbers–with nearly 34,000 jobs lost from March 2020 to March 2021. This change is likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought a myriad of adversities and challenges to businesses and employees alike. 

However, organizations such as the Mississippi Economic Development Council (MEDC) and the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP), provide tools and resources that can help support and promote economic growth. 

Gwen Howard, Executive Director of MEDC, speaks on what economic development is, how it can improve the economy, and how apprenticeship programs can lower job turnover and improve the workforce in the state.

Economic development consists of activities designed to create jobs, to increase community wealth, and to promote economic growth. 

“Economic development,” Howard says, “ends up halfway between job growth and economic prosperity. There are many avenues toward economic development, though traditional pathways include job growth, business location, and business expansion.”

MEDC offers resources for both traditional and alternative pathways toward economic development, and has served as a driving force for Mississippi’s economic development for decades. 

“MEDC is 57 years old. We have played a role in Mississippi’s competitiveness on many levels over the decades,” Howard says. “We serve not only as the voice of economic development in the state, but also as the nexus that brings professionals and industry partners together.”

In addition to convening professionals, industry partners, and businesses in order to discuss opportunities for job growth, MEDC considers apprenticeship as an important tool for furthering economic development. 

“Apprenticeship programs provide a sustainable pipeline of talent for our existing and new companies, ensuring that they will have a trained and productive workforce setting them on a path to success,” MEDC President, Mitch Stringer says. 

When asked how MAP can help further economic development in the state, Howard had this to say: 

“The Mississippi Apprenticeship Program is an important part of our overall strategy to retain talent in Mississippi and to build one of the best workforces in the country. It is a unique tool companies can use to tailor on-site programs to the occupations and skill sets needed for their industries,” Howard says.“We see [apprenticeship programs] as a win-win for the employer and the community’s workforce, by training [employees] to be the best they can be at their job, which results in reduced job turnover.” 

In addition to MEDC and MAP’s resources, economic development can be influenced by people wanting to improve their communities. Everyone can have a role in improving economic development. 

“Although MEDC works hard to serve its members,” Howard says, “ the state’s job growth and economic prosperity is due to the hours of  our local and regional economic developers, MDA, the governor and the legislature and the many industry partners that work together to make Mississippi a top state for doing business.”

MEDC’s website is full of helpful information on economic development, job growth, and pandemic relief. They also offer memberships to individuals interested in becoming more involved in economic development and strengthening the state’s workforce.

“We welcome everyone who plays a role in economic and community development,” Howard says. “If you aren’t engaged already, you’re missing out on a strong network of peers and opportunities to grow and strengthen the community you serve.”