Ward hits ground running as new economic development director

Published 11:05 am Thursday, May 27, 2021

Pearl River County’s new economic development director has a long history of helping cities and counties in the Gulf Coast region grow.

Lindsay Ward was recently hired to replace Blaine Lafontaine, who left to take a new position with Hancock County Port and Harbor.

Ward graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with an associates in business administration before going back to USM to eventually graduate with a masters in economic development in 2012.

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After college she completed an apprenticeship with Mississippi Enterprise for Technology and later went to work for the Calhoun County, Ala., Economic Development Council as their director of business development.  In 2016 she took a position with South Mississippi Planning and Development District as the agency’s senior project manager. She was later promoted to SMPDD’s economic development manager where her focus was on Mississippi’s six coastal counties, which includes Pearl River County.

Ward has hit the ground running, taking up where Lafontaine left off with the county’s strategic plan.

Some of her priorities include site development to attract light or heavy manufacturing companies to the area, and using this county’s prime location near New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast to market Pearl River County as an ideal place to do business.

Her hope is to bring more high paying jobs to the county so residents don’t have to drive so far to make a living wage. She said a typical Pearl River County resident spends an average of 35 minutes of drive time to get to their job. The state average is 25 minutes.

The county’s placement near major metropolises means she can focus on attracting companies in the sectors of aerospace, distribution, polymers, healthcare and warehousing.

She also wants to do what she can to help close the gap on the teacher and nursing shortage expedited by the recent pandemic.

One of Ward’s goals is to enable young people to not think they have to leave Pearl River County to get a good paying job. A way to accomplish that is to ensure there is sufficient federal funding to provide workforce experience to students in high school through career and technology centers, which can also help increase the local graduation rate.

Ward’s past experience and network connections put her in a unique position to work with neighboring counties and parishes to help market Pearl River County as a place to set up a business, she said.

And she is working with the Board of Supervisors to get a tax abatement ordinance approved so existing businesses can save on county and city taxes pertaining to the expansion of their facility.