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Economic development, quality of life contributions cited

Long-time efforts earn Peresich volunteer of the year

BILOXI – Attorney and civic leader Ron Peresich’s decade-long efforts to enhance economic development and the quality of life on the Coast have led to him being selected as the Mississippi’s Volunteer of the Year by the Southern Economic Development Council (SEDC).

“It is through the effort of people like Ron Peresich that the South and our nation continues to proper,” said Gene Stinson, executive director of SEDC. “Mr. Peresich is an example of someone who has gone the extra mile to enhance the quality of life in his community and make it a place where business can not only grow, but succeed.”

SECD annually recognizes an outstanding volunteer from each of its 16 member states. A panel of political and community leaders from each state selects the award winners. This is the first time that a volunteer from the Coast has been selected as Mississippi Volunteer of the Year.

Peresich said improving the Coast’s infrastructure to enhance economic development efforts has been a major goal he pursued as chairman of Coast 21, a public-private economic development partnership. Peresich helped unify the Gulf Coast business and political community to secure funding for new north-south corridors considered critical to handle rapid growth, and also provide additional hurricane evacuation routes for a growing Coast population. He also strongly advocated a four-year college on the Coast by granting the Gulf Coast branch of the University of Southern Mississippi the authority to offer four-year degrees.

Michael Olivier, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission, said Peresich was an excellent choice for the award because he has the vision, commitment and leadership skills that embody the word “volunteer.”

“The one word that sums up Ron Peresich is unselfishness,” Olivier said. “Even though Ron and his wife, Ramona, are graduates of Ole Miss, and have two children who are Ole Miss graduates and are in law school at Ole Miss, Ron was our biggest proponent for the University of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast to be designated as a dual campus. He has no ax to grind other than he wants to see the right thing done.”

Olivier also lauded Peresich’s vision working to help establish Coast 21 as a private sector group that could partner with the public sector to influence in a positive way the projects that needed to occur.

“He understands the complexity of having growth along with quality of life, and understands there have to be some compromises to achieve the level of growth needed to provide good jobs for people to improve their quality of life,” Olivier said. “Let’s face it. It you can’t earn the money, you’ll never achieve a good quality of life. A good standard of living involves having access to opportunity.”

Peresich said one of the reasons Coast 21 has been successful is because it has been able to unify efforts. Previously the five city governments and one county government in Harrison County would sometimes have opposing plans.

“Coast 21 has been a group that has really helped unify Harrison County, and have given us a vehicle to identify our common interests and move forward toward a goal that everyone supported,” Peresich said. “That is why we were able to get the three north-south highway routes on the Mississippi Department of Transportation list. Before any road can qualify for funding, it must be on that list. We finally were able to get obstacles removed to the widening of one of the north-south routes, Cowan-Lorraine Road. Now contracts and funding are in place, and the Cowan-Lorraine project should be in place within the next three years.”

Two new north-south corridors have also been placed on the list, the extension of Canal Road in Gulfport and a connector from Interstate 10 to U.S. 90 in Biloxi.

Cooperation was also the key to successful lobbying to expand USM to offer four-year degrees on the Coast. Coast 21 first worked to unify Harrison County to push for a four-year curriculum, and the group was then able to successfully solicit support from Hancock and Jackson County officials.

Peresich said the only thing left to gain approval for the four-year curriculum is approval of admission standards from the judge presiding over the Ayers desegregation lawsuit. A hearing date on that issue is set this month. If that is approved, freshmen will able to enroll at USM Gulf Coast in January.

Peresich believes that a coastwide effort similar to Coast 21 in Harrison County could reap many benefits.

“As the years go by, we are going to need more and more of the type of cooperation that we saw with expanding USM and the north-south road projects,” Peresich said. “And I believe people in all three counties realize that. I think prospects are bright to continue economic expansion while at the same time protecting all the nice things we have here. Everyone’s goal is to have continued economic expansion along with preservation of the environment. But in order to do that over the long haul, it is going to take cooperation on a three-county basis. And we are hopeful groups like Coast 21 will be able to organize those efforts on a continuing basis.”

Peresich said there is a lot of interest now in the private and public sectors working together on the Coast with the realization that their common interests outweigh individual differences.

Cooperation with neighboring states is also needed for projects like the proposed relocated of the CSX Railroad to north of Interstate 10. Peresich said the proposal has support from officials in all three coastal states, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

“It looks like a viable project,” Peresich said. “The only question is how soon we are going to be able to do it.”

Peresich has served in a large number of volunteer positions. He is a former chairman, vice chairman of public affairs, and board member of the Coast Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Economic Development Council. He is a member of the Greater Biloxi Economic Development Foundation, and has been a chairman, vice chairman and board member of Leadership Gulf Coast. He is also a member of the leadership board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast. Peresich was recently honored by the Biloxi Lions Club as Biloxi’s Outstanding Citizen.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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