Dean Barber

How the Governor Got His Groove On

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2011 at 9:39 am

We are not machines. As people, we have emotional responses to things. Studies show that there will always be an emotional aspect to decision making. We simply cannot help it. It’s what makes us human.

For companies that are considering expanding operations or building a new presence in a location, this somewhat fuzzy concept of quality of life usually enters the picture on some level.

From Miami to Anchorage, from San Diego to Boston, from Gnaw Bone, Indiana, to Possum Kingdom, Texas, everyone lives in a community that can rightfully claim a quality of life. Mind you, it might not be your idea of quality of life, but nonetheless it is there.

And again this jello-in-the-fingers concept of what constitutes quality of life plays into the decision making process for companies that are looking beyond the hard numbers on return on investment. Factors may include the quality of local schools, the cost and availability of quality housing, crime rates, recreational opportunities, and the proximity of restaurants, retail, art galleries and museums.

Quality of life has a huge impact on overall employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention. It is now an accepted truism that companies perform better when their employees are happy in the workplace. And that translates to the bottom line on profitability.

A true horror story: I was once in what will be an unnamed town in which the mayor, the company client and I were doing a community tour. The mayor, thinking that he was speaking well about his community’s quality of life, said this: “You know, we have very little crime in our town. That’s because we have so few blacks.”

At that very moment, Mayor Dumbass killed any chance that his town would be considered for an automotive supplier manufacturing project that would create hundreds of new jobs. The company executive and I cut the visit short, per the request of the client. Even if the mayor’s point of view did not represent most people living there, we were not sticking around to find out.

This past week, I spent several days in Biloxi as the guest of Team Mississippi, a consortium comprised of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), Entergy, Mississippi Power, TVA and the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi.

There I saw firsthand how Mississippi is promoting a quality of life aspect, the state’s music heritage, as a tool for economic development. As many governors do, Gov. Haley Barbour has focused on long-term economic success by supporting and recruiting innovative manufacturing companies. They include PACCAR, Severstal, GE Aviation, Northrop Grumman, Nissan and Toyota Motor Co., which will open their latest North American plant near Tupelo this year.

But Gov. Barbour and Team Mississippi are  promoting Mississippi as the “Birthplace of America’s Music” through initiatives like the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola; the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, and the Mississippi Blues Trail with 130 sites statewide.

Keep in mind that Mississippi is the home of blues greats Son House, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, and Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, who died March 21 at the age of 97. In 2010, Perkins received a GRAMMY for his final release, “Joined at the Hip,” with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

Attending the Fifth Annual Mississippi GRAMMY Legacy Celebration in Biloxi this past Tuesday, Gov. Barbour posed for photographs with Mississippi musicians who would  perform onstage later that night. Indeed, by all appearance, the governor got his groove on. In doing so, he paid homage to the incredible music heritage of his state.

“If you look at the blues, everybody understands and agrees it was created in the Missisippi Delta. Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll. Jimmie Rodgers, the king of country music, was from Meridian,  Mississippi,” Gov. Barbour said.

But the governor knows that the music represents more than culture and history — it is also an important part of Mississippi’s economy.

“Music is not simply a part of our cultural heritage. Music is an important and very powerful economic engine in our state — one with a global reach,” Barbour said. “Music in all forms is one of our most vital exports.”

It wasn’t always so. Mary Beth Wilkerson, director of the Division of Tourism at MDA, said it has only been over the past eight years that economic developers have come to realize that the state’s culture is “a strong, strong draw for traditional economic development.”

That hit home for former MDA Executive Gray Swoope while attending the 2008 opening of the B.B. King Museum.

“I was surprised to note that representatives from the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) were there covering the event,” Swoope would later write. “The BBC’s presence proves the fact that a large market exists of people who enjoy the blues and who want to learn more. It also underscored the fact that we, as Mississippians, often take for granted the very things that others, particularly international audiences, value.”

Today, when MDA goes to Europe on tourism and industry recruiting trips, blues musicians will often be a part of the contingent, Ms. Wilkerson said.

Mississippi, of course, is not the only state to recognize the role of the arts as a driver of economic growth. In the Lone Star State, a report published in January and commissioned by the Texas Cultural Trust and the Texas Commission on the Arts,
said creative industries — from advertising to dance companies to book publishing — generate $4.5 billion per year in economic activity. You read that right — $4.5 billion.

Across Texas, the creative sector employs nearly 700,000 people, approaching the number of people who live in Fort Worth. By and large, these jobs are lucrative. In 2009, the average annual wage for people employed in the state’s creative sector was about $70,000, compared with $39,000 in other industries.

And like in Mississippi, we’re not necessarily talking big city life.

In Clifton, Texas, population 3,795, the Bosque Arts  Center injected economic vitality into a once-sleepy downtown. Now there are art galleries and restaurants among thriving businesses, and some evenings it is hard to find a parking space downtown. In 2009, local cultural arts tourism spending generated $2.4 million in economic activity.

Because the perception of the arts is typically in terms of cultural and not economic value, the best argument for getting local government support of art initiatives is by showing the direct and indirect contributions to the local economy, said Chris Beacham,
project manager for Regional Technology Strategies, Inc., based in Carrboro, N.C.

And because art often generates and creates cohesiveness to a community, it thereby builds upon itself by attracting a creative class of people, he said.

“If you are looking to keep or gain a specific demographic, these younger, well-trained, creative types, then you really need to have a strong creative economy,” said Beacham, who is also a painter.

Companies taking a longer view on employee satisfaction, particularly companies that need a creative class of employees, take note of such things. Corporate decision makers on site selection matters have to balance many factors beyond the costs of operations.

Whether they like it or not, they are betting on future success, which entails the human element and an emotional aspect of the decision making process. Would I want to live here? Could I live here? Where is the nearest juke joint?

Mississippi understands the emotional aspect of decision making, and for that reason, MDA shows more than buildings and sites to corporate site selectors. Whenever possible, MDA seeks to “immerse” their visiting guests into the culture of the state and in particular the music.

“It’s who we are,” said Ms. Wilkerson. “It speaks to our authenticity.”

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm in Red Oak, Texas —   He can be reached at


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