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Speed tapped, no word on Heidel for Barbour team

[1/9/04]A Jackson developer was named Thursday to head the state’s economic development agency, and no word was given on Vicksburg’s Jimmy Heidel.

Gov.-elect Haley Barbour named Leland R. Speed to the top post in the Mississippi Development Authority. Speed will succeed MDA executive director Steven Hale, the last of three MDA directors during Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s administration.

Heidel, a Barbour ally and member of his transition team, said this week that he had interviewed for a possible job in the MDA amid consideration of splitting the agency’s top post into two positions. But at a news conference Thursday, Barbour said he is not doing that, adding that the 71-year-old Harvard graduate would be in charge.

“Leland Speed didn’t need this job, and he sure didn’t ask for it,” Barbour said.

He said he tapped Speed for the MDA job because of the real estate developer’s success in the private sector.

“Leland Speed shares my vision that we don’t have to be last,” Barbour said.

Heidel had been MDA executive director for eight years under former Gov. Kirk Fordice.

Before being tapped for the state post and since, Heidel, 60, has headed the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce, the Vicksburg Warren County Economic Development Foundation and the Warren County Port Commission. He has been honored nationally as a top economic development whiz and also said this week he interviewed for the top economic development job in Louisiana.

Speed has been the managing trustee and chairman of EastGroup Properties since 1983 and served as chief executive officer through September 1997. He also serves as chairman of the board of directors of Parkway Properties Inc., and as a director of ChemFirst.

He said foreign automakers are facing pressure to increase their profits and will be looking to expand operations in the United States.

“You bet your bippy we’ll be in there,” Speed said.

Nissan opened Mississippi’s first auto manufacturing in May.

Republican Barbour takes office Tuesday. He defeated Democrat Ronnie Musgrove in November.

Speed must be confirmed by the state Senate. The current Mississippi Development Authority director, Steve Hale, has been paid $152,700, but Barbour said Speed wants to work without pay.

The MDA executive director serves at the will of the governor, and the job usually changes hands when a governor is inaugurated.

Speed is a frequent contributor to Republican candidates. Carolyn Shanks, president of Entergy Mississippi, was among dozens of business people who attended Barbour’s news conference. She said Speed understands how to help keep existing businesses and attract new ones.

“Leland’s got the strong point of being a businessman and understanding what businesses look for when they relocate,” Shanks said.

Bill Bynum is CEO of Enterprise Corporation of the Delta and HOPE Community Credit Union, two nonprofit groups that work on development in the most economically distressed part of the state. He said Speed will bring a market-driven approach to economic development.

“Hopefully, he can recognize how the private sector and the public sector can work together to make sure that all Mississippians benefit,” Bynum said.

Andy Taggart, interim president and CEO of Mississippi Technology Alliance, called Speed’s appointment “a grand slam.”