A couple of days into the job, Jonathan Barnett already sees the potential for growth in Washington County.
Barnett recently became the executive director for the Washington County Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Council. With new businesses planning to open up and people moving into the region and Florida, Barnett looks to play a role in the area’s surge.
“I’m here to help spark some new industries and to build a robust workforce/economic development system for individuals who live in the county,” he said. “What that entails there, too, is me working as a liaison with the pillars of workforce development: the private sector, education, and nonprofits.”
Barnett noted Washington County recently becoming a wet county–meaning it allows alcohol use and sales–as an opportunity for growth and for “individuals who want to potentially work, play, and live” in the region. New businesses he mentioned being interested in bringing to Washington County include Chick-fil-A, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and a movie theater.
“We want to retain our great talent that we have here–definitely a place for our students,” he said. “We want to recruit new businesses, young and bright minds, and those who are established great minds.”
Barnett is from Jackson, Mississippi–several hours away from Washington County. His professional background is in economic development with the planning department for the City of Jackson, which is the Mississippi state capitol. Since 2012, he spearheaded a workforce development program in Jackson called Jobs for Jacksonians. He said he was “very humbled” to “help over 9,000 individuals receive job and career opportunities,” as well as educational certifications or trade skills.
“When I look at Washington County, it reminds me a lot of what I’ve seen in my state in the last 20 years,” he said. “This county now, the citizens have decided now to accept the potential of growth. With that there, I think they’ve seen what’s happened in neighboring and adjacent counties. I believe the citizens here believe competition is a great thing.”
Barnett said he is “all about collaboration and innovation.”
“I look at myself as a facilitator.I’ve been in the position where I’ve had to liaison with the governor’s office in Mississippi, working across political lines,” he said. “ My rolodex is pretty stout. As I ride around Washington County, I say what if I call my guy here who may be a district manager and their region may reach over to the Panhandle region.”
Graduating Morehouse College in Atlanta in 2007 and then getting to work during the Great Recession helped Barnett be efficient, he said.
“Me helping individuals with job search navigation,” Barnett said. “Resume writing. Leadership and professional development. Soft skill development. Those pieces there, I put myself in that mindset and helped individuals attain not only jobs but careers.”
The benefits that can come with growth include “a sense of excitement” since residents have been waiting for new things to come in, he said.
“The benefit is the joy of seeing something happen that you never knew or thought would be possible,” Barnett said.