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Skaggs, Nuzzo share insight into...

Skaggs, Nuzzo share insight into economic development in Mississippi

By: Phil Hardwick - May 24, 2024

William "Skip" Skaggs, Executive Director of the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association (NMIDA) and Gabriella Nuzzo, Senior Vice President of Economic Development at Greater Jackson Alliance

  • The two were recently named to a listing of North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers.

Two Mississippi economic developers were recently named to a listing of North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers. Among the honorees were William “Skip” Skaggs, Executive Director of the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association (NMIDA), and Gabriella Nuzzo, Senior Vice President of Economic Development at Greater Jackson Alliance.

Consultant Connect, a national consulting agency designed to bridge the gap between economic developers and site consultants, announced the awards. According to the organization’s website, the economic development professionals selected for this list were nominated by their colleagues in both the economic development and site location consulting industries. 

We took the opportunity to contact Skaggs and Nuzzo to learn more.

What is the biggest opportunity facing the area you serve?


Our region expands across parts of 30 counties in North Mississippi from Kemper County to DeSoto County.  As you might imagine, each community has its own set of challenges and opportunities, which are, more or less, geographically defined by commuting patterns.  Locally, Boards of Supervisors drive most of the work as they have the resources required to acquire and improve industrial sites toward being competitive.  However, as a region, the build-out of high-speed fiber by our electric power cooperatives represents our greatest opportunity.  In today’s economy, broadband is as much of a required infrastructure as roads, water, and electricity.  


The Greater Jackson Alliance is the regional economic development group for the Jackson metro area. We cover Hinds, Madison, Rankin, and Warren Counties. I think the biggest opportunity we have is the fact that we are home to so many colleges and universities. This provides us with an opportunity to attract and keep our young talent here. Our region churns out a high percentage of people with advanced degrees each year who are looking for a job. Our job is to provide them with job opportunities to keep them here. Projects like the recent AWS announcement will help us do that and attract the high paying tech talent we have been needing. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the area you serve?


In a word, people. Economic developers have focused on workforce numbers and potential employee pipelines for the last ten years.  Economic developers must compete for projects when, according to Area Development magazine’s annual survey of site selection consultants and corporate real estate executives, available labor is one of the top drivers for location decisions.  Combine that with a stagnant population growth and you are not very competitive.  The biggest challenge we face as economic developers is how we attract more people and improve our workforce participation rates.  


On a macro level, many people have preconceived notions about Mississippi in general. Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is simply getting people to even consider us. However, once we are given a chance to compete, companies often say we make it hard for them to say no. 

On a micro level, the entire country suffers from a lack of product, and the greater Jackson region is no different. I think most people think available land equates to qualified sites and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Companies want sites that have completed due diligence, on-site utilities, and a community that is willing to partner with them to meet their goals. Luckily, we have great community partners that are working each day to bring our sites up to today’s industry standards.

What advice would you give to a recent graduate considering a career in economic development?


Buy a helmet.  Working in economic development is like banging your head on a brick wall over and over, waiting for it to crack.  You will lose more than you will win.  But in the process, the incremental improvements you shepherd will move the needle; you can and will make a difference in the vitality of a community and, thus, individuals’ lives.  Few things are more rewarding than cracking the wall and seeing the light come through as communities are changed for the better.  Economic developers lead that path, and more are needed.  


I would tell them not to be scared to pursue a career in economic development just because they don’t have a degree in it. The profession uses various skill sets and touches a wide range of industries and sectors, so being eager to listen and learn is the best quality you can bring to the table. The career is fast-paced, fun, and each day is different. I could not think of a more exciting way to spend 40+ hours of my week, and I would recommend the profession to anyone.

About the Author(s)
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Phil Hardwick

Phil Hardwick is an award-winning business columnist and semi-retired economic developer. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at the Millsaps College Else School of Management for many years. He has taught over 1,000 students, written over 800 columns, written 11 books and assisted over 100 communities and organizations with strategic planning. In February 2016 he was inducted as a Lifetime Member of the Mississippi Economic Development Council.