Thursday, August 07, 2008

Building Lakes as ED Strategy

One of my most vivid memories from being out touring the country for the past four years occurred about three years ago at a breakfast with Leland Speed, at the time the head of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). Leland was the most youthful seventy-year-old I’ve met, constantly on the lookout for new ideas and ways to help create more jobs and economic opportunities in ALL of MS. He had started two public REITs, was an expert in real estate development and agreed to work for $1/year as head of the MDA.

“Why is it that people will pay three times what they will anyplace else to be located along the Gulf Shore in Biloxi?” Leland asked me. Not waiting for a reply he responded, “They won’t ever go down to the beach. They’ll only talk about going out fishing. What they really want to do is just sit up there on their condos balcony and look at the water. Water has a very calming affect on people.”

He went on, as he laid a map of MS in front of me, “What have we got a lot of here in Mississippi?”

When Leland got on a roll like he was on, you didn’t try to interrupt him with a guess, so I let him continue, “Water! We’ve got lots of water. We’re bordered on the south by the Gulf of Mexico and on the west by the Mississippi River. But, we don’t have any water in the rest of the state. We’re going to do something about that and use it as an economic development tool.”

Leland then laid out his plan to lay out as many as 200 lakes in the state, mostly in very rural areas. The plan would be to partner with the counties, build the lake and then sell off the land around the lake to developers, recovering the cost of the lake in those sales. I was enthralled by his vision as one of the major trends that I’ve observed in my travels around the country is the way that people are being drawn to water. Lake and seashore values continue to soar in value, but will increase even more with the coming retirement of the Baby Boomers.

Joy Foy, who heads up the asset development office at MDA, was at our spec building announcement in Columbus. She gave me a wonderful Power Point presentation of their progress to date on building lakes, which you can see here.

“We’ve already got four lakes under construction under this plan, with many others being studied,” Joy told me in our tour of the area around Columbus after our announcement.

I’m convinced that it is a brilliant strategy that will prove to be a major long term boost to the MS economy. Boomers are not only going to be looking for second homes in warmer climates but they’re also going to be looking at starting up new businesses when they retire from their careers. This water trend is synergistic with so many other ones that I’m seeing (i. e. entrepreneurism, Boomers in second careers, water, leveraging resources, etc.).

No comments: