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Southwest Mississippi on the playing field

As I See It

Southwest Mississippi has begun its journey to effective economic development. They are discovering the importance of teamwork and broadening the definition of community.

In early September, I was honored to participate in the third-annual Southwest Mississippi Economic Symposium, held at Southwest Community College in Summit. My role was a panelist for a discussion of promoting economic development through better communication with the media.

I attended the first symposium two years ago in Natchez. At that meeting it was plain that most of the attendees had little idea about what organizing for economic development meant. Absent a plan entailing cooperation and mutual support, communities tend to focus on their hometown and feel competitive toward their neighbors. This alienates prospective industries and tends to drive them away.

Until McComb, for example, realizes that success in Brookhaven or Liberty casts a favorable shadow across the entire region, there can be no real progress in economic development for the area. This attitude is somewhat foreign to our instinct for self-preservation and takes some time and effort to change.

In the interim two years, the Southwest Mississippi Partnership has been birthed. Similar to other regional economic development groups within the state, the partnership promotes economic and cultural growth within the 10-county area. The organization will play a key role in bringing the regional community together.

This year’s symposium was titled, “Keys to Economic Success: Commerce, Connectivity, Cohesiveness, Communication.” Having passed the first obstacle on the course to regional economic growth by recognizing the need for regional collaboration, they must now leap the next hurdle.

Successful economic development is composed of two types of efforts.

The first, and most important, is support for existing businesses. Expansion of those businesses already in place produces the greatest job growth. Every effort needs to be made to determine what’s needed by incumbent businesses to help them grow and prosper.

Once the needs of existing industry are addressed, it’s time to consider number two — bringing in new industry and new jobs.

To attract new businesses to the area, the community must have some economic development capital available. This capital generally consists of industrial park land, complete with utilities, roads and other infrastructure. Capital fundraising can be done in any of several ways:

• A community fundraising campaign can be conducted whereby local businesses and individuals contribute funds to establish an economic development fund.

• The community can create an “economic development district (EDD)” and ask the county to pledge up to two mills of tax revenue to the EDD to create a capital fund.

• Bonds can be issued to create an economic development fund.

I am particularly interested in the progress of Southwest Mississippi because my ancestral roots are there. My father’s people settled in the Franklin/Amite area, while my mother’s side of the family settled in Copiah and Lawrence counties. Though a critic once described me as “that Yankee publisher,” in fact, my ancestors settled in the “Mississippi Territory” in the early 1800s.

I am an ardent, but amateur, student of economic development. I am privileged to work in a job that allows a unique perspective on the business happenings across Mississippi. Having said all of that, I have developed a sense of what works in economic development and what doesn’t. My antenna tells me that the Southwest Mississippi economic development hound has the scent and will follow the trail to a brighter financial future for the entire region.

Thought for the Moment — A hundred years from now, it won’t mater what your bank account was, the sort of house you lived in, or the kind of car you drove, but the world may be different because you were important in the life of a child.

— Author Unknown

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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