Leadership in Mississippi

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The leadership team at the Mississippi Development Authority is driven by a single mission: attract and retain top businesses and people to create vibrant Mississippi communities. With experience in every industry, our team is well equipped to help companies with their expansions and new locations in Mississippi. Contact us today.

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Laura Hipp
Deputy Executive Director

Laura Hipp

Laura Hipp serves as deputy executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority. She also has served as chief marketing officer, managing the marketing and communications for economic development and tourism. Hipp has extensive experience shaping communications and public policy strategy. She was director of communications for Gov. Tate Reeves when he served as lieutenant governor, working with elected officials and the private sector. She previously served as director of communications for former Gov. Haley Barbour. Additionally, she worked for 10 years as an award-winning reporter in Mississippi and Texas at several publications, including The Clarion Ledger and Austin Business Journal.

Chief Economic Development Officer

Bill Cork

Bill Cork is an economic development executive with extensive experience in the areas of transportation, logistics, defense, aerospace and chemicals development in the state. He was previously CEO of the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission where he led economic development efforts for Stennis International Airport, Port Bienville Industrial Park maritime port and the Port Bienville Railroad, and he also worked with Stennis Space Center. Cork also founded Cork Consulting Group, a real estate, urban planning and public finance consulting firm. Prior to his consulting work, he was CEO of TexAmericas Center in New Boston, Texas. He also is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Vickie Watters
Director of Trade

Vickie Watters

Vickie Watters serves as the director of the International Trade Office at the Mississippi Development Authority. In this role she leads the state’s international trade program, which helps Mississippi companies develop and expand exports around the globe, which helps create and retain jobs in the state. Watters brings three decades of domestic and international business experience in the public and private sectors. Before assuming her role as director, she oversaw the administration of the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Watters is dedicated to helping Mississippi companies grow through international trade.

Director of Minority and Small Business

Carol Harris

Carol Harris joined the Mississippi Development Authority in January 2002 as an associate manager within the Minority and Small Business Development Division. She has since served in several positions within the division, ranging from associate manager to interim director. As current director of the Minority and Small Business Development Division, Harris leads the division in advocating on behalf of minority- and women-owned enterprises and promotes the participation of small-, minority- and women-owned businesses in the statewide economy.

Director of Business Incentives

Sara Watson

Sara Watson is the director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Business Incentives Division. In this role, she is responsible for coordinating state-funded incentive programs for the agency and developing incentive packages for new and expanding industry in the state. Sara also leads the agency’s efforts to provide technical assistance to companies, site selection consultants, and economic development professionals in the state regarding Mississippi’s business incentives programs. Sara joined MDA in 2006, and joined the Financial Resources Division in 2011.

Director of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Joe Donovan

Joe Donovan’s primary responsibility within The Entrepreneur Center is to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem that ‘raises entrepreneurs’ and attracts start-up businesses to Mississippi. Previously, he was the principal at The Donovan Consulting Group, focusing on start-ups, business development plans, business restructuring, re-branding, growth and expansions. Throughout his career, Donovan has held the title of CFO, COO and CAO for an array of non- and for-profit companies.

Director of Energy and Natural Resources

Jason Pope

Jason Pope is the director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Energy & Natural Resources Division. In this role, he is responsible for coordinating the functions of the Office of Energy, as well as other energy-related initiatives. Previously, he served as associate vice president for Physical Plant and Auxiliary Services at Hinds Community College. There, he oversaw sustainability and facilities management functions of more than 200 buildings across HCC’s six campuses. Under his leadership, HCC experienced a 32% reduction in energy consumption, which equated to more than $20 million in utility savings. At MDA, Jason continues to promote Mississippi as a leader in energy development through programs that strengthen energy security and independence.

Director of Community Incentives

Steve Hardin

Steve Hardin has served as a part of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Community Incentives team since 2007. His current primary responsibility is the oversight of the financial assistance programs that advance the state’s economic and community development efforts. Prior experience includes three years with MDA as the manager of the Community Operations Bureau and three years as director of the Regional Services Division. Hardin is a member of the Mississippi Economic Development Council, where he served as president from 1991 to 1992. He also serves as Mississippi’s representative on the Council of State Community Development Agencies.

Director of Business Research & Workforce Development

Bill Ashley

Bill Ashley brings to the Mississippi Development Authority decades of experience managing Mississippi community colleges and examining workforce needs in the region. He previously served as president of Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, guiding the college through workforce and economic development initiatives. He has more than 20 years of experience with four of Mississippi’s community colleges. During that time, he saw firsthand how community colleges, communities and the state can work together to develop a strong workforce.

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