Gray Swoope gets Senate approval to head MDA

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gray Swoope got Senate confirmation Monday to head Mississippi’s economic-development agency, but not before one lawmaker poked fun at the huge salary he’ll make compared to the last man to hold the job.

Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, evoked laughter on the Senate floor when he asked: “Is this gentleman getting a substantial pay raise over his predecessor?”

Swoope replaces wealthy businessman Leland Speed, who had asked Gov. Haley Barbour for a $1-a-year salary in the three years Speed headed the Mississippi Development Authority.

Swoope, who was sitting in the Senate balcony, smiled and shook his head.

Swoope was named interim director last November when Speed stepped down. He will make an annual salary of about $153,000.

“Gray has been with the MDA for the last 3 1/2 years. He’s done an excellent job,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point. “We looked at his background. It’s impeccable. His integrity is unquestionable.”

Swoope was instrumental in luring Toyota to the Tupelo area. Officials announced earlier this month that a proposed $1.3 billion plant is expected to employ some 2,000 people when it begins producing the Highlander sport utility vehicle in 2010.

“Gray Swoope is the man behind the details of all of the important initiatives undertaken by the Mississippi Development Authority, and has been since the beginning of my administration,” Barbour said. “He is thoroughly immersed in all aspects of Mississippi’s economic development program and initiatives, and I am delighted to say that with his elevation to the top spot in January we haven’t missed a beat.”

Swoope, who is from West Point, said he has wanted to lead Mississippi in economic development since getting started in the profession.

“I’m a blessed individual to be in the profession for 22 years and then have the opportunity to lead my home state in economic development,” he said. “I’ll continue the work we started three years ago. There are lots of opportunities out there and MDA is working on more economic development proposals than ever before in its history.”

Swoope worked for the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission in the early 1990s. He was later president of the Area Development Partnership in the Hattiesburg area.

Senate confirmations to other agencies this year include:

— Trudy Dell Fisher, of Brandon, as head of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

— Dr. Olen Wayne Gann, of Corinth, to the state Board of Education.

— James M. “Jimmy” Taylor, of Biloxi, to Commission on Marine Resources.

— Vernon Lowell Asper, of Diamondhead, to Commission on Marine Resources.

— Joe L. “Jody” Bryan, of Starkville, to Veterans Home Purchase Board.

— John R. “Johnny” Junkin II, of Natchez, Workers’ Compensation Commission.