Billy Browning, Chairman of the EDA Board, said, "Mitch and his family came to Jones County 25 years ago and made this their home. He and his wife, Jamie, raised their sons here. When Mitch came to Jones County, he gave his heart and worked with all his might to make Jones County a great place to live."
"Mitch will be sorely missed. His expertise in the field of economic and community development is second to none. He is well respected throughout the state of Mississippi and the Southeast United States," Browning said.
Linda Gavin, outgoing Chairman of the EDA Board of Directors, said, "Mitch has been recognized numerous times over the years for his work in economic and community development. In 1998, Mitch was named Mississippi's Outstanding Economic Developer of the year by the Mississippi Legislature. He received the Harry A. Martin Award for his efforts in the economic development field, was named an Honorary Life Member by the Southern Economic Development Council in 2004, and was also named Honorary Life Member of the Mississippi Economic Development Council earlier this year. Mitch has served as the President of the 17-state Southern Economic Development Council and President of the Mississippi Economic Development Council," Gavin said.
When Stennett was asked about his time in economic development, he said, "My 25-year tenure at the EDA began when Vern Geddie, Harry Bush and Bob Gaddis agreed with then interim-EDA President Bill Hackett to recruit me to Jones County. Bill was a long-time friend and acquaintance who had been the states' top economic development official in both Mississippi and Louisiana. He was the staff leader for the EDA for several months and told me that I'd be a perfect fit for Laurel and Jones County, so I visited, liked the people and the vitality I saw and took the job," he said. "But, Vern, Harry and Bob were my mentors and had the enthusiasm that "sold" me on Jones County. I have rarely regretted that decision."
Stennett said he would never forget Vern Geddie, who was EDA Chairman at the time, counseling him within the first few weeks of his arrival in Laurel. "He told me that one priority would be getting our finances in order, cutting spending and safe-guarding the taxpayer dollars that the EDA was getting. He added that we needed jobs for our citizens because the unemployment rate in Jones County at that time was in the double digits."
"I am happy to say that we've come a long way since Vern's charge to me. EDA's assets have grown from about $2.3 million in 1990 to over three times that this past year; our obligated reserve fund which is allocated toward capital improvements, prospect incentives and site development has quadrupled since 1990, and we have NO long-term debt. Our operating revenues have grown, too, but we've had no budget increase for the past 10 years. Along with those positive financial moves and other community and industrial efforts, we've seen Jones County's unemployment rate drop from nearly 10% to hover around 5 or 6% most months. "It was actually below 4% a few years ago," Stennett said.
He recounted a few things that he thinks and hopes are sort of his legacies by saying he was only the staff leader and paid worker on these projects. "The EDA Board, the EDA staff and our visionary elected officials and business leaders actually made them happen. And some of these projects we played a large part in and some we were just liaisons. I merely played a small part, but a role I'll cherish forever," he said.
"Howard Industries, Inc. has had explosive growth over the past 25 years and are the anchor tenant in Howard Technology Park. Part of their progress and their growth spurt in the late 90s and early 2000s enabled us to add infrastructure to Howard Technology Park and make it into what former Mississippi economic development leader Gray Swoope called the "nicest (and best) business park in the State of Mississippi". And, going along with EDA's mission, Howard Industries has added many hundreds of jobs for our community," he said.
He continued by saying the acquisition and development of Howard Technology Park was another project he could point to with pride. "You've heard the story before, but it took over a year to find the perfect site and to acquire the land; another couple of years to get the infrastructure in it; thousands of meetings to get grants and other funding; thousands of people to use their influence to get things done; and a few great companies to invest private funds in the infrastructure – namely Mississippi Power Company, TEC (Telephone Electronics Corporation) and Howard Industries. Then, once we got work started on Howard Technology Park, we ran into 9-11, then Hurricane Katrina, and then the mandated re-drawing of the state's floodplain maps, then the worst national economy in the last 90 years. Those impediments certainly slowed us down a great deal, but they didn't stop us," Stennett said.
An anchor binding the success of the park is JCJC's Advanced Technology Center (ATC). Stennett believes the addition of the ATC established the enduring partnership between JCJC and the EDA. "I well remember walking the halls of the State Capitol, following then JCJC President Ron.
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