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Time right for consolidating agencies

Philadelphia-Neshoba County focus development effort

PHILADELPHIA — They grow like topsy. First, a chamber of commerce is organized, but then eager business and political leaders decide another organization is needed to “chase smokestacks,” and off they go. And the same process is repeated for a tourism agency. All require separate staffs and separate buildings or offices.

No sound-thinking leader would even consider creating a new company to act as their original company’s sales department. Yet multiple community organizations are formed one after another.

Lately, there’s been a dawning in the minds of the progressive business and political leadership — one organization could do the work much more efficiently and at much less expense.

Consolidation of organizations is happening all over Mississippi: Hattiesburg, Corinth, Starkville and Meridian, to name a few. This time it’s in Philadelphia-Neshoba County.

Mayor Rayburn Waddell, who’s unopposed for his second term, said, “We tried it 10 years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. Now’s the right time.”

Connie Sampsell has been executive director of the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Chamber of Commerce for 40 years. As the only full time employee, she’s done it all-handled economic development until the Industrial Development Authority of Neshoba County hired an executive director about 10 years ago. And lately— and again, by herself along with all her chamber duties — she’s been trying to keep the tourism ball in the air for the 18-month-old Philadelphia-Neshoba County Tourism Council.

You don’t have to wonder why she’s seriously considering retirement. Then Ed D’Antoni resigned May 1 as executive director of the Industrial Development Authority. Those are two primary reasons for the mayor’s characterization of “good timing.”

Greg McKee is president of the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Chamber of Commerce in addition to being executive vice president of the Citizens Bank. He said the new umbrella organization is the result of a long-range planning session last November.

“The focus began to narrow about a year ago on the possibility of a consolidation,” McKee recalled. “We saw what other communities had done, so they asked me to be chairman of a group to see if there was any support for the idea.”

McKee met with representatives of the boards of each of the organizations plus the city and county governing bodies. “Everybody got on board with it and was excited about it,” he remembered. “Instead of having three or four smaller budgets out there, you put them together and hire a better pool of talent. It will be more cost efficient and certainly make our volunteer efforts more effective.”

Gray Swoope, president of Hattiesburg’s Area Development Partnership, came up and shared the story of their consolidation’s success, and Charles Gulotta, president of Corinth’s Alliance, chipped in with advice via phone. “We thought those were good models,” McKee said.

And so consolidation began.

Frank Moore is chairman of the steering committee putting together the new organization. He’s president of Hardy Manufacturing Co. located about 10 miles southwest of Philadelphia and lays claim to being “the token county business person” in the movement.

The committee is comprised of representatives of all three of the organizations plus representation from the city and county.

Moore is enthusiastic about the consolidation and ready to go. The day before an upcoming meeting of the steering committee, the agenda was printed and ready for action. He expects the officers to be elected by June 1

“When they elected me chairman, they became a working committee,” Moore said. “We meet at 11 o’clock in the morning and we’ll be through at 11:45. Either we’re going to be working, or we’ll be back like we were.”

Moore is chairman of the task force determining the number of personnel the new organization will need and who they will be. McKee is in charge of getting the bylaws drawn up and filing the articles of incorporation, and that’s already been done. Contracts are being composed by each of the three organizations that will allow the umbrella group to act in their behalf.

“Between the attraction of the Silver Star and the (Neshoba County) Fair, we’ve got a lot of tourism and we sure need to include the Tribe (referring to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and their casino),” he said.

The bylaws call for the board of directors of the new organization to be comprised of three members from each of the forming groups and three from the newly formed Main Street organization (which will join the umbrella group). Ex-officio members will be two members from the board of supervisors, Mayor Waddell and another city representative and Chief Phillip Martin and another representative from the Choctaw tribe.

The new group will be labeled the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Economic Development Association.

The recent wave of statewide layoffs and plant closings has sent a chill through Neshoba County, so whoever the new executive is better be prepared to take care of existing industry.

“We certainly want to attract new business, but I want to see somebody that can help us retain the industry we’ve got,” McKee said. And Mayor Waddell chimed in with, “It’s better to keep 150 jobs than lose them and have to find 150 new jobs.”

There’s serious talk about a new building to house the consolidated organization and it’s going to be accessible, and downtown, according to the mayor.

“We’re excited about this,” McKee said, “And so’s everybody else. I just hope they’re as excited about it five to six years from now.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at lanjohnson@aol.com or (601) 485-7046. Johnson served as an economic development consultant in Starkville from August 1999-April 2000.

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