Barksdale named interim MDA chief

Published 4:00 pm Friday, January 6, 2012

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant says he plans to name former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale as the next interim leader of Mississippi’s economic development agency.

“One of the world’s best entrepreneurs will be the next director of the Mississippi Development Authority and that man is Jim Barksdale,” Bryant said.

Bryant said he wants Barksdale to conduct a review of the structure of the Mississippi Development Authority, which recruits business and promotes tourism in the state.

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“How can we even make it better?” Bryant asked. “It would be timid for us to believe we have reached our greatest potential in economic development in the state of Mississippi.”

Bryant said he expected Barksdale to serve at least 90 to 120 days as executive director, although Barksdale expressed a willingness to stay longer if needed.

He will be the second interim director in a row for the agency, following current temporary chief Leland Speed. In March, then-Gov. Haley Barbour named Speed, a real estate developer and previous MDA director, to serve until the next governor took office.

Barksdale, 67, said he would accept the same $1 salary that’s been paid to Speed.

“I’ve learned a lot that hopefully I can apply here,” Barksdale said. “Let’s go get ’em.”

Bryant said Barksdale would help find a permanent replacement. The governor elect, who will be sworn in Tuesday, said he didn’t want to rush into an appointment.

Bryant reiterated that he hopes the state will spend more effort on developing medicine as an economic driver, pushing energy development and enhancing tourism.

Barksdale said that state ethics officials have told him that there’s no conflict between the MDA role and his other activities, both his business investments and his philanthropic efforts aimed at improving public education in Mississippi. He said he would work to avoid problems, and said he believed his promotion of better public schools is a long-term aid to attracting business

“They want their employees’ children to go to good schools,” said Barksdale, who wore a visitor’s badge to his own announcement ceremony.

Barksdale worked as a pioneer in the wireless telephone industry, then served as chief operating officer of what is now FedEx Corp. before becoming CEO of Netscape, the Internet browser company, in 1995.

In January 2000, Barksdale and his late first wife gave $100 million to the state to create the Barksdale Reading Institute, a joint venture with the Mississippi Department of Education and the state’s public universities. He also served as the head of the state’s Hurricane Katrina recovery panel following the 2005 storm and has chaired a commission to improve Internet service in Mississippi.