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Cooperative Energy’s economic...

Cooperative Energy’s economic developer credits team for winning national honor

By: Lynne Jeter - June 30, 2024

  • Stevie Phillips, one of North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers, shares insights into behind-the-scenes work. Find out her most interesting economic development projects.

Stevie Phillips, an economic development representative with Cooperative Energy, was recently named among three Mississippi economic developers to the Top 50 Economic Developers in North America by Consultant Connect, a national consulting agency designed to bridge the gap between economic developers and site consultants. 

Phillips, a member of the Mississippi Economic Council’s 2024 Leadership Class, joined Cooperative Energy’s economic development team nearly eight years ago, two years after it was formed. The company is a $2.1 billion cooperative that provides wholesale energy to 11 electric cooperatives throughout 55 Mississippi counties. It covers the largest geographic area in the state, with the smallest economic development staff. The team includes Phillips, Jennifer Kassinger, Thomas McElroy, and director Mitch Stringer. 

“I’d say we’re arguably one of the best economic development groups in the southeast,” Phillips said. “We punch above our weight.”

After earning economics and public administration degrees and an MBA at Millsaps College, Phillips “like most people,” she joked, “fell into economic development.” 

“My senior year at Millsaps, I was studying economics,” she said. “The college offers a field trip every other year to Atlanta and sets up meetings with Georgia Power’s economic development group. My professor encouraged me to go. I’m glad I did.”

Phillips began her career as a research analyst at the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). She moved up to project manager before moving to Cooperative Energy in 2017. 

“At that time, MDA had separated global recruitment, I was on the global side, mainly handling aerospace and defense projects,” she explained. “My husband, who I met at MDA, was doing the same thing in automotive.”

The Cooperative Energy team has helped land many new developments that infused millions of dollars locally and created jobs for hundreds. Phillips pointed to three recent economic development successes. 

One, Gloster Forest Products, a new $200 million sawmill located on Gloster’s former Georgia-Pacific mill site that began bringing in at least 130 jobs when it started manufacturing lumber earlier this year. 

“It’s located in Amite County, which doesn’t even have an interstate through it,” she said. “We helped Gloster work that project. The town hadn’t seen an investment of that scale in decades.”

Two, Anduril Industries, which is expanding its solid rocket motor production capacity by investing $75 million and creating more than 60 jobs by December in McHenry, a rural town in Stone County. 

“CNBC just named Anduril number two on the (12th annual) Disruptor 50 list,” Phillips said. “It had every twist and turn you can imagine. When construction is complete, Anduril will be the third largest producer of solid rocket motors. Also, they have a local catering contract that serves all employees breakfast and lunch every day. They spend significant money locally. You can really see the community growing because of it.”

Three, a Canadian boat manufacturer, in Phillips’ mother-in-law’s home county of Coahoma.

Near Clarksdale, Connor Industries recently announced an $8 million investment that will create 56 jobs. The new location will allow the company to manufacture and test boats year-round on the Mississippi River. 

“My in-laws definitely didn’t understand what I did for a living,” she said. “With this project, I could show them what economic development work can do to bring jobs and investment into the state. She was like, ‘oh, I get it now!’” 

Having grown up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and married to Chat, a Delta native, Phillips has no plans to leave the state, even though her new honor might lead to being recruited out-of-state.

“I’ve been in Jackson for 15 years,” she said. “We consciously choose to stay in Mississippi. Many people in economic development move around but that’s not of interest to me. I believe there’s a level of authenticity and trust that comes from being an economic developer from the area you’re representing.”

Phillips’ greatest challenge in the economic development field has been being a young woman in an older male-dominated industry.

“I’ve always been one of the only women in the room and many times the youngest,” she said. “I’ve navigated the challenge in two ways: one, by having allies that advocate for me to have a seat at the table, and two, by being over prepared.” 

Phillips advises young people in economic development to channel their passion to align with well-planned action. 

“Our work doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “If you can’t chip away and execute well thought-out actions to accomplish goals, you’re just running like a hamster on a wheel.”

Also, Phillips suggests “giving us a call.”

“Most of us like to talk about what we do,” she said. “We’re happy to share information about the industry and why we enjoy it.”

Phillips, lives in Jackson with her husband, Chat, and their one-and-a-half-year-old son, Chatham. 

Author’s Note: Skip Skaggs, executive director of the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association, and Gabriella Nuzzo, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Jackson Alliance, were two Mississippians named to North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers. Both were featured in a Magnolia Tribune column on May 24. Read more here.

About the Author(s)
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Lynne Jeter

Lynne Jeter is an award-winning business writer who penned the first book to market about the WorldCom debacle, “Disconnected: Deceit & Betrayal at WorldCom” (Wiley, 2003), and authored the biography of the late Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin, “Chief” (Quail Press, 2009). Her diverse body of work has appeared all over the world. Twice, she was named the SBA’s Mississippi Small Business Journalist of the Year. You may reach Lynne at