On Economic Development: Thoughts from Acting Executive Director, Curnis Upkins

Curnis Upkins III, Acting Executive Director at Hinds County Economic Development Authority, speaks on the importance of National Economic Development Week, finding that first “career job,” and how efforts that increase economic development, such as apprenticeship programs, help improve communities across the state. 

For most of us, work is a part of life. Working in exchange for a wage or salary feels like a difficult thing to start—not because the job itself is hard, but due to the fact that finding the job you want is often no easy task. I started my first career job seventeen years ago. I had graduated from college in May with no job prospects and had become well acquainted with the “must have five years of experience” line. How does one get five years of experience if no one will offer the opportunity to get day one checked off the list? 

One solution to this conundrum that the Mississippi Department of Employment Security has pursued is the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program. Not only does it offer day-one experience, but it also gives participants the opportunity to earn a wage while they receive on-the-job training. This is crucial because if you’ve gotten to the point in life where bills have started, they don’t typically stop to let you learn something new. Getting paid while you learn is the way to go. 

Eventually, I did get to day one of my first career job. The field that captured me is economic development. It is a profession in which people strive daily to improve their communities through new businesses, jobs, and investments. The most critical component of our work is the presence of talented people such as those reading this post and the contributions they make at the workplace. 

Your efforts enhance the businesses in which you are employed or the ventures that you own. It culminates into a vehicle of revenue called income, through which you can support yourself and your family in the various aspirations you have for your life. It also provides revenue for our communities so that we can work toward those public improvements that are integral to our cities, counties, and state such as utility infrastructure, roads, education, parks, and access to each. 

May 9th  to May 15th  is Economic Development Week. It is an annual effort to reinforce the public’s awareness of a field that often does its work in the background. While it’s not as thirst-quenching as National Lemonade Day, it has the same spirit of building a better community through the wealth that businesses create. 

When Economic Development Week arrives, use it as a time to reflect upon the current state of economic development for your community. More importantly, visualize how you’d like to see it in the future and help us make it happen; because while it is our job as practitioners to cheerlead for our communities (which we do with pride) you are the ultimate influencer.