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PDDs leading way for regional economic development

Across the state, if there is an economic development project underway, chances are that one of the state’s 10 planning and development districts (PDDs) is involved.

The basic mission of PDDs is to identify and capitalize on the development potentials of the counties and cities within their boundaries, helping promote a regional approach to planning while providing expertise in government grant programs.

“The philosophy of the PDDs is to do things collectively for the local governments we serve,” said F. Clarke Holmes, CEO of the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, whose office also serves as the headquarters for the Mississippi Association of PDDs. “What we do is address common issues that don’t confine themselves to single political subdivisions. In the early days of government, a city or county was pretty much self-contained. You could deal with economic development or infrastructure or education issues pretty much within the confines of that government. In today’s mobile society, almost nothing is contained within one political subdivision.”

Working together

Clarke said the standard now is to address problems on regional basis rather than each individual entity working alone. Whether talking about water and sewer services, garbage collection, roads or stormwaterflooding issues, the most efficient answers lie in cooperation between city, county, state and federal entities.

“A lot of times government gets bad raps because officials are looking at their turfs, yet they are elected by a citizenry that expects that of them,” Clarke said. “A metro or regional government might be more efficient, but no one wants to give up that local autonomy. No citizen wants to be only part of a larger regional government. They like the idea of local government serving their needs. The middle ground is for these city, county and state entities to work together on a cooperative basis. Really what you are trying to do is maintain the local democratic process by electing local representatives, and then looking at how to provide services in a regional way.”

PDDs, or entities with different names but similar functions, have been established across the country by the federal government because of the difficulty of delivering federal aid to thousands of different municipalities and counties. The PDDs are a central point of delivering federal grants. So, instead of each of thousands of cities and counties needing federal grant experts, one entity serves as a clearinghouse.

“Local governments get together and prioritize needs, and have the staff of the PDD write federal grant applications based on a strategic plan,” Clarke said. “You are trying to prioritize where you go next and then use a critical mass of trained experts at one place seeking grants to do the most good.”

Coordinating for best results

The Mississippi Association of PDDs focuses on doing the same thing statewide, coordinating efforts to get the best results. The state association meets once a month, and works on issues such as training, policy issues and ways to deliver services most effectively. The association also holds workshops.

The Central Mississippi PDD (www.cmpdd.org), which covers seven counties in the central part of the state, celebrates its 33rd anniversary this year. Clarke said when he became CEO in 1973, the CMPDD had a budget of $100,000 and a staff of six.

“And while size of budgets and staff are alone no indication of success, the district now has a budget in excess of $47 million and employs 80,” Clarke said. “Even more important than the size of our organization is the quality of performance, overall stability and potential for the future. The organization has achieved and maintained an extremely delicate balance of meeting local, state and federal objectives and priorities through mutual effort.”

Holmes said the goal of the organization is to beneficially shape and enhance the economic growth of its seven-county area in a positive manner, using productivity, creativity and capitalistic principals to achieve objectives.

Understanding economic development

The Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District (www.smpdd.com) works to assists 15 counties and 37 cities in one of the fastest-growing regions of the state. Les Newcomb, executive director of SMPDD, said that since its beginning in 1967, SMPDD has continually evolved to meet the needs, discover opportunities and anticipate the trends challenging the economic vitality, environmental integrity and overall quality of life enjoyed in South Mississippi.
If you look around South Mississippi, the SMPDD has had a role in every industrial park and nearly every water tank in the region. But those kinds of projects aren’t all that the district is involved in.

“A lot of people don’t understand what economic development truly is,” Newcomb said. “Sometimes what people call economic development does not improve the quality of life. Our viewpoint is that economic development is improving the quality of life regardless of what it takes. It may be promoting industrial development and jobs, or providing services such as child care. Improving the quality of life is economic development.”

Newcomb said the district perceives its function as a change agent to add value to the information and resources it possesses, and by doing so, accomplish its mission of providing the information and technical capacity needed for private and public sector leaders in Southern Mississippi to make informed decisions and to take effective actions to encourage and accomplish planned development of the region’s human, economic, political and natural resources.

Funding small biz ventures

Helping fund small business ventures through a revolving loan program is another function of PDDs. Bill Martin, the loan officer for Southwest Mississippi Planning and Development District (www.swpdd.com), Natchez, said the district’s loan program has provided a little over $10 million assisting with the startup and or expansion of small businesses in its service area.

“This is about 200 businesses,” Martin said. “We provide child care service, aging services, county GIS services, as well as grant assistance services.”

Clay Morgan, a planner with the North Central Planning and Development District (www.ncpdd.com), said his district’s projects include helping with infrastructure improvements for Autokumpu/Heatcraft to allow the company to employ more people.

“This is a new venture taken on by Heatcraft that will put them in front of their competition,” Morgan said.

A number of other industries such as Viking Range and Grenada Manufacturing are being assisted with infrastructure improvement to aid economic development and jobs creation in the region.

Crossing boundaries

At the Three Rivers Planning and Development District (www.trpdd.com) headquartered in Pontotoc, efforts include developing the Pontotoc, Union and Lee Counties (PUL) Alliance that became the first Regional Economic Development Alliance approved under the Advantage Mississippi legislation.

“This unique partnership allows for both cost and revenue sharing in the development of an industrial park and any tax revenue that may result from it,” said John Byers, technical assistance division director for TRPDD. “It allowed for our counties to cross boundaries and spend money that will benefit the entire region. After an in-house site selection with our local governments and local economic developers, a site was chosen located on U.S. 78 (the future I-22) near the corner of the three counties.

“Randy Kelley, Three Rivers executive director, and myself then began the process of meeting with landowners to try and secure options on there property. After several months of negotiation with 21 different landowners, we secured the entire 1,730 acre site. In January of this year, we received ‘Certified Automotive Mega-Site’ status from TVA and McCallum Sweeny Consulting. We are one of only three sites in TVA’s seven-state region to receive this designation.”

The Wellspring Project site (www.wellspringproject.com) is now being marketed to potential industries.

Three Rivers PDD is also involved in implementing a computer project that will allow local court clerks to image records and allow for total electronic filing of documents in their offices.

“A full-service electronic filing system will combine case management, e-filing, performance management, process serving and Web-content management capabilities to allow attorneys and judges to exchange information in electronic or traditional forms,” Byers said. “It will also provide a centralized and integrated online information management environment with no information barriers between them. Courts can standardize processes, centralize their information management infrastructure and reduce the costs of litigation on all parties involved.”

The Three Rivers PDD will coordinate operations, jointly finance and support the regional high-tech initiative.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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