Manufacturing Business Has Blossomed in Golden Triangle in Last Decade
Golden Triangle – Courtesy of Harvard Business School
Over a dozen Harvard Business School faculty, led by Dean Nitin Nohria and Senior Associate Dean for Research Jan Rivkin, came to the Golden Triangle last fall to take an in-depth look into just why our area’s manufacturing business has blossomed to impressively over the past decade. Our area has a labor pool of approximately 500,000 people within a 60-mile radius, a bustling regional airport, several sizeable colleges and universities nearby, and plenty of usable land. The GTR region has brought in nearly six billion dollars in investments and industry in that time, and outsiders have been paying more and more attention: “There are so many good things happening in this area of the country,” said Rivkin. “It’s a story of leadership, cross-sector collaboration, and local competitiveness. This corner of Mississippi is competing for global firms, and often it’s winning.”
Rivkin’s attention was first brought to the region due to a 2016 article in the Atlantic, which prompted him to write to the fine folks at our own GTR LINK. He and others had been studying similar successes abroad, and were excited for the opportunity to learn more about something more home-grown: “We realized that we had a much better understanding of other parts of the world than we had of certain parts of America,” Rivkin recalled. “HBS faculty members used to spend a lot of time visiting those parts of the country, but we had lost touch. There was a stark need for us to reconnect with these areas and learn about them, and from them, in a changing social and political context.”
They found the people of GTR area welcoming and eager to share their knowledge: “Not only were they enormously gracious and hospitable,” Rivkin said. “They were eager for us to come and learn more.” They worked closely with the LINK to arrange times for their sixteen members to visit on October 30 and 31 of last year.
“Many of the faculty, including Dean Nohria and Professor Rivkin, intentionally selected the Golden Triangle because of the significant economic development there in the last few years,” said Alain Bonacossa, Senior Director for Research Administration and Behavioral Research Services at HBS. “They wanted to understand how that came about so they could bring those lessons to bear in the classroom and for other communities in their research.”
They began by attending a series of meetings in Columbus hosted by LINK’s charismatic CEO, Joe Max Higgins: “In the economic development business,” he explained, “coming in second equals coming in last.” They then proceeded to visit EMCC and MSU to learn about their own advancements in student training and close work with manufacturers; they also went to visit some local plants to see their work up close and personal.
Rivkin summed up his takeaways from his time well-spent in the GTR as such: “Leaders in the Golden Triangle have developed trust and hope, and it shows in the novel ways they work together . . . The Golden Triangle folks helped me see that if you’re going to be in a game like this, you’d better be very well organized and very talented. And they are .”
He also said that, having read and heard many good things about our area and its focus on attracting business, these things were proven true: “You always wonder when you go to a place that’s received such glowing reviews if it will live up to its billing. The Golden Triangle did and then some.”
Joe Max Higgins has even returned the favor, going up to Harvard to spread a little of his wisdom around: “Students were deeply impressed by the collaboration shown in GTR’s revitalization, and they learned a lot about leadership from their time with Joe Max and Macaulay,” Professor Kerr said. “Their southern charm and humor also made for a riotously fun day.”
Rivkin finished by saying that “Many of the ideas from trips like these percolate in the backs of our minds and, eventually, find their way into research or teaching,” he said. “There are short-term and long-term benefits, and it’s a win-win for everyone involved. Getting out into the world is vitally important for our work here on campus.”