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Confidentiality remains one of economic...

Confidentiality remains one of economic development’s greatest challenges

By: Lynne Jeter - July 7, 2024

  • Learn what the long-tenured economic developer and former Magnolia Tribune business columnist plans to do in retirement.

Phil Hardwick wears a coat of many colors. He started out as an FBI clerk, served in the Army on the White House security team, joined the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia, and then moved to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office as chief investigator. 

After that, Hardwick, a Jackson native, joined the Mississippi Real Estate Commission, eventually serving as head of the agency. While there, he was instrumental in establishing the national certification program for real estate investigators.

That experience led to an appointment as the City of Jackson’s chief economic developer and a stint in economic development at Mississippi Valley Gas (now Atmos Energy) before landing at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

A master multi-tasker, Hardwick also found time to teach at the Millsaps College Else School of Management for more than a quarter-century and pen more than 1,000 business columns, most recently for Magnolia Tribune. He has also authored several detective novels. 

Magnolia Tribune sat down with Hardwick to ask about his career highlights, economic development challenges, and “re-retirement” plans. 

What was the highlight of your career? 

Being bestowed Life Membership in the Mississippi Economic Development Council in 2016. At the ceremony, I was honored to have my bosses in my economic development career share the moment, as well as my nominator, David Rumbarger, CEO/President of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo, one of the premier economic developers in the state. Of course, my biggest supporter and friend (and wife), Carol Hardwick, was there. 

Also, attending the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the summer of 2004 as a Fannie Mae Foundation Fellow was what I would call “a mountaintop experience.” I still have acquaintances from that class.

What was your most rewarding experience?

My last full-time job was at Millsaps College as Director of Business Analysts at the Else School of Management. Each year, I had the pleasure of coordinating economic development activities of graduate students and businesses in Midtown Jackson.

By the way, Millsaps College has been a constant in my career. I received my MBA from there and taught as an adjunct instructor for over 25 years.

What are some challenges you experienced in economic development?

One of the biggest challenges in economic development is maintaining confidentiality when working on large projects. Elected officials, in particular, are anxious to know about projects that might be coming to their communities.

The other thing is simply balancing all the details that must be done, such as options, tax issues, incentives, and data gathering. On the flip side, economic development is a team sport, and every project involves a lot of people.

When a project finally comes to fruition, the economic developer is usually in the background. Mississippi is fortunate to have one of the best collections of economic development professionals in the country.

What’s one of the best things you learned in your economic development career?

When I joined Mississippi Valley Gas Company (now Atmos Energy), Matt Holleman, President & CEO, said that my title would be Vice President of Community & Economic Development instead of the more common VP of Economic & Community Development.

What he knew and what I learned was that community development comes first. Communities must be prepared for economic development.

What do you plan to do in “re-retirement”?

Carol and I now live in Georgia, where we moved to be closer to our grandchildren and family. I plan to stay actively involved in the community. I’m now serving as vice chair of the Canton Tourism Board. For recreation, I play on a couple of tennis teams. Carol and I continue to travel internationally at least once a year. I’m also working on a couple of novels.

So, family, community, tennis, travel, and writing keep me plenty busy.

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 Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com