A familiar face is returning to the Mississippi Development Authority. Jackson real-estate developer Leland Speed is temporarily taking the reins of the MDA as executive director until January 2012, the remainder of Gov. Haley Barbour's term in office.
Speed, chairman of Jackson-based Parkway Properties, and chairman and founder of real-estate investment company EastGroup Properties, served as MDA's executive director from 2004 to 2006, but left to pursue an independent career. Barbour called on Speed to return to his old post to replace current MDA Executive Director Gray Swoope, who leaves for Florida's economic development agency, Enterprise Florida. Swoope's last day at MDA is Friday.
The Mississippi Development Authority spearheads economic development and job-creation efforts for the state. The agency serves an important role in attracting and retaining businesses in the state, usually by assembling favorable tax-credit and development-incentive packages. The MDA also provides training and technical assistance to companies.
The organization also encourages entrepreneurship, particularly for minority and women-owned businesses, by offering group workshops on running a business, and providing educational tools for business-owners on applicable grants and tax incentives.
Speed's familiarity with the inner workings of MDA will make for an easy changeover, Barbour said in a statement yesterday.
"The return of Leland Speed to lead MDA will ensure a seamless transition and strong leadership for an agency with such an important task in these difficult economic times: Creating Mississippi jobs," Barbour said. "Leland is an exceptional business leader who knows the needs of the private sector. I appreciate his dedication to public service."
Swoope managed MDA during the organization's successful pursuit of large business ventures such as a new General Electric Aviation plant in Batesville in 2008. David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation, praised Mississippi and MDA's background work when he said in a statement the placement of the GE plant in Batesville represented "a textbook example of how state government, linked with its universities, can team with private industry to create sophisticated manufacturing technologies and products with global impact."
Under Swoope's direction, steel manufacturer Severstal decided to set up shop in Columbus in August 2010. MDA provided the state funding for public infrastructure improvements for the development of two steel-processing companies associated with Severstal.
Jackson attorney John Reeves, who works with Speed as a member of the Jackson Redevelopment Authority, says he expects Speed to handle MDA well.
"I worked with Mr. Speed during the 24 years I was in the House (of Representatives)," Reeves said. "Most of that time he was a businessman concerned about the betterment of Jackson and the state, and he would call me for assistance with good projects He's done a whole lot for the state and the city of Jackson, and we're very fortunate to have him back in charge at MDA."
Among Speed's other current ventures, he also serves as a board member of the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, where he advocates for the creation of a lake on the Pearl River between Hinds and Rankin counties. Speed announced last year that he was donating Jackson property that he owned to Mississippi College, which may increase in value with the addition of the proposed lake.
Speed did not immediately return calls for comment. Mississippi Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Hood did not immediately returns calls to determine if Speed can still serve on the Levee Board.