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As I See It

Gulf Coast Business Council on a critical mission

I have intentionally stayed away from the Coast since Katrina struck. I hate to gawk at other people’s misfortunes and, with my knees barely functional, I knew that I couldn’t offer much in the way of physical labor. So, I have opted to give financial support to several organizations active in Coast relief efforts rather than go down there myself.

All that changed this past week. I actually made two trips to Biloxi last week. One to attend the Small Business Administration’s annual awards program followed by the Mississippi Press Association’s annual convention. The devastation along U.S. 90 is beyond description. One must see it firsthand to appreciate the destruction wrought by the hurricane and the attendant storm surge.

The outpouring of support for the Coast from around the world has been gratifying. Volunteer groups are still coming in to help clean up and re-build nearing a year after the storm. It’s easy to be mislead into believing that our society has become self-indulgent and uncaring but the actions of thousands of volunteers puts the lie to that assumption.

Addressing key questions

Naturally, the focus has been on homeowners and businesses that were either destroyed or significantly damaged. And, that’s as it should be. However, there are questions that also need to be addressed which reach beyond individual and business losses, such as how and when community infrastructure can be restored and what public policy matters need to be addressed.

How should the Coast be rebuilt even better than it was before? There needs to be a voice unifying efforts to plan for the future of the post-Katrina Coast.

Fortunately, from the business community, such a group has risen to assume the responsibility for re-building the Coast better than before Katrina. The Gulf Coast Business Council is a new group whose mission is to be the voice of business on public policy issues relating to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Region. It replaces the Gulf Coast Economic Development Council and Coast 21 and will speak for the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Good plan, strong board

The following is excerpted from the organization’s strategic plan: “The Gulf Coast Business Council (GCBC) will provide leadership in areas of public policy including governmental and legislative affairs, military and defense related industry, economic development, infrastructure, education and workforce development, and regional leadership development. This organization will be well positioned to help successfully implement initiatives from the Governor’s Commission Report for Redevelopment. It will work to align the interests of all communities in the three coastal counties and represent them with one strong and united voice in Jackson and in Washington, D.C.”

The board of directors for the GCBC is a very impressive body. The following Gulf Coast leaders are serving on the board:

• Anthony Topazi — president and CEO of Mississippi Power.

• Jerry St. Pé — former president of Ingalls Shipbuilding.

• George Schloegel — president and CEO of Hancock Bank.

• Chevis Swetman — president and CEO of Peoples Bank of Biloxi.

• Dave Treutel — president and CEO of Treutel Insurance Agency and T & T Financial Services.

• Ronald Peresich — partner in the law firm of Page, Mannino, Peresich & McDermott in Biloxi.

Committed to the task

Mississippi has long suffered from a case of acute regionalism and the Coast was no exception. All efforts to unify Mississippi, even unifying various parts of the state, go a long way toward advancing Mississippi. We need to protect our regional history and traditions while at the same time addressing issues and opportunities as a state.

I am convinced that the GCBC is a giant step in the right direction for bringing Mississippi closer together as a state.

Everyone with access to a TV or newspaper knows that there is going to be an enormous amount of tax money flowing into re-building the Coast. When this money begins to flow, one of two things can happen. We can be like a drunken sailor who gets a bonus on Friday and is broke on Monday with nothing to show for the money, or we can use the money wisely to lay a foundation for future.

The Coast needs an organization like the GCBC to insure that the money is well spent and policies are adopted that will lessen the risk of future hurricane catastrophes.

Thought for the Moment

It’s kind of fun to do the impossible. — Walt Disney (1901-1966)

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


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