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Gathering to address community and economic development

Economic symposium scheduled for Sept. 6 in Summit

There is no one newspaper, radio or television station that covers the Southwest Mississippi region, but that has never stopped them. For the third year in a row, Alcorn State University (ASU), Copiah-Lincoln Community College (CLCC) and Southwest Mississippi Community College (SWMCC) are working together to promote the idea of regionalism through the Southwest Mississippi Economic Symposium.

About 160 economic development officials, government officials,

businesspeople, community leaders, educators and others attended the first meeting, which was held at ASU in Natchez. At CLCC in Wesson where the symposium was held the second year, 200 were in attendance. Even more are expected to attend this year’s symposium, which will be held Sept. 6 in Summit at SWMCC.

“This is an opportunity for us to share ideas and come up with some common mission or vision to move our region forward,” said Jerry Malone, career center director at SWMCC.

Bill Crawford, president of the Montgomery Institute, Barbara Travis, executive director of the Mississippi World Trade Center, Jim Lott, director of employment training for the Mississippi Development Authority, and Joe D. Jones, CPA, president and publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal, are just a few who have been invited to speak at the symposium. Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck has been invited to be the keynote speaker for the luncheon.

“These speakers and presenters coming to our area realize that Southwest Mississippi is interested in community and economic development,” Malone said.

Dr. Steve Wells, professor of accounting and director of the MBA program at ASU, said during the 1990s while the nation and much of Mississippi was enjoying economic prosperity, Southwest Mississippi was not. He hopes a regional approach to economic development will make Southwest Mississippi competitive with other regions of the state as well as with other states and countries in the future.

“We have good people, natural resources and a good quality of life in Southwest Mississippi,” Wells said. “Rather than being competitors, we want to be partners and promote the region.”

As institutions of higher learning, Dr. Billy Stewart said ASU, CLCC and SWMCC set the stage for regionalism.

“We’re not advocating we go outside our boundaries, but we can work together and I think it’s important for institutions to work together,” Stewart said. “This symposium gives us the opportunity to bring others into that partnership.”

Crawford, who is a member of the board of trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning in addition to being the president of the Montgomery Institute, said that more and more, city limits and county lines are irrelevant in terms of community and economic development.

“We compete with Mexico, Korea, Singapore. The concept of being just a small municipality or one county that’s going to be competitive is a paradigm that is no longer pertinent,” Crawford said. “To be competitive we have to band together in regions and pool our resources and efforts if we’re going to be significant competitors.”

The idea of regionalism is nothing new to Crawford. The Montgomery Institute, which he helped found just over a year ago, is a charitable nonprofit think tank and leadership foundation that serves eight counties, six in East Mississippi and two in West Alabama. Named after former Congressman Sonny Montgomery, the institute resulted from a series of community-based initiatives that determined an organization was needed to promote regionalism. He said East Mississippi and West Alabama are tied together similarly to Southwest Mississippi.

“Southwest Mississippi is tied together by geography, culture, transportation and trade areas,” Crawford said. “They have a lot in common so it’s feasible for them to come together and operate regionally.”

Crawford said it is critical that civic, business and government leaders participate in efforts to create regional cooperation or it will not work.

“Somehow these meetings have to engage and inspire these leaders,” Crawford said. “That’s the challenge. But the reward for coming together as a region will be to fully participate in the global economy.”

The concept of regionalism, however, extends not just to industrial recruitment but to community development, school improvement and other quality of life issues, Crawford said.

“You have to step up on the balcony and look at the perspective of the whole region, because that’s what major industry is going to do,” Crawford explained.

Travis believes the regionalism concept is one that has been valid for a number of years but is becoming increasingly important.

“To me the most important reason for regionalism is that it encourages resource and informational exchange between organizations and people and entities that have never worked together before,” Travis said. “Networking I think is key for everybody.”

Like Crawford, Travis’ work also centers on regionalism. The Mississippi World Trade Center promotes national and international business, and the regionalism concept is something Travis uses everyday in her line of work.

“I think there’s so much we can all work together for,” Travis said.

Stewart is excited about the opportunities the symposium will bring to Southwest Mississippi.

“We encourage all of Southwest Mississippi, whether business, education or government leaders, to come and participate in the meeting and promotion of economic development in this region,” Stewart said.

The symposium will be held Friday, Sept. 6 in Summit from 8 a.m. until about 1:30 p.m. For more information, call Malone at (601) 276-3889.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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