- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi economic development chief Brent Christensen announced Wednesday that he’s stepping down from his statewide post to return to local economic development in North Carolina.

Christensen, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority since April 2012, will become the new CEO of the Greensboro Partnership by no later than June 1. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and public policy studies from Duke University in Durham, the 45-year-old said he had always been interested in returning to the state.

“North Carolina has played a significant role in my life,” Christensen said in a phone interview. “My wife and I thought this would be a great place to land someday.”

Gov. Phil Bryant said MDA Chief Administrative Officer Manning McPhillips will run the state business and community development agency until a new executive director can be chosen.

“We’re going to be very methodical in our search,” Bryant said in emailed answers to questions from The Associated Press. “That may or may not include a national search. There are certainly individuals in Mississippi who can do a good job.”

A successor will require state Senate confirmation.

Christensen began his economic development career at the Area Development Partnership in 1994 in Hattiesburg and served as president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce in Florida from 2002 to 2012.

“The local level opportunity is attractive, to go in and dig in in one community and just make such a big impact,” Christensen said.

As economic development chief in Mississippi, he helped lure a $300 million, 500 job Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. tire plant to West Point. MDA counts 17,000 jobs and $2.43 billion in corporate investment during his tenure. Christensen also counts a push to improve the state’s competitiveness as a business location, spurred by a study completed a year ago, as one of his legacies.

“People don’t recruit economic development leaders from states that aren’t successful,” Bryant wrote in an email. “It is no surprise that Mississippi’s success and Brent’s role in that has attracted the attention of other states.”

Christensen makes $230,000 a year, with a legal limit of $183,000 from the state. Another $47,000 raised by businesses was paid to Christensen for meeting certain goals. It’s the same overall amount he was making when hired.

Bryant said Christensen will have a “monetary advantage” in his new position. In Greensboro, retiring CEO Pat Danahy made $260,485 in 2013, according to tax documents filed by the organization. Greensboro Partnership Spokesman David Marshall declined to discuss Christensen’s salary there.

“We have to recognize that people who produce at the level Brent can are sought after and they are paid well,” Bryant said. “If we are going to compete, we have to face that reality.”

Christensen is taking over a top post in Greensboro reconfigured to focus more on economic development. Regional leaders are trying to create a 1,800 acre industrial megasite to lure an auto assembly plant and are hopeful that Christensen’s experience in helping Nissan Motor Co. expand will help.

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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