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Regional concept reaping results for economic development

Regionalism is the buzzword du jour in the world of economic development but for a very good reason — several of them, in fact. Mississippi counties and cities are bringing in impressive companies and jobs by pooling resources and ignoring geographic lines.

“Absolutely, regionalism played a big role,” said David Rumbarger of the recent announcement of a Toyota plant coming to North Mississippi. “The three counties — Pontotoc, Union, Lee — came together with a $1.3-billion investment by Toyota as a result of the regional concept.”

Rumbarger, president of the Community Development Alliance in Tupelo, says the area’s cooperation didn’t just happen by pulling a group together. “We had to work on it and had to develop common goals and a plan of action. But, we have proof it works.”

He says the state’s traditions with the Friday night football rivalry mentality have been working against regionalism in economic development, but feels that’s changing.

The three counties of Forrest, Lamar and Perry have come together in South Mississippi to form the Area Development Partnership with Angie Godwin, Ph.D., as president. She says regionalism is the future of economic development.

“It is the foundation of our organization. We came together to pool resources and assets,” she said. “We realize and continue to realize more every day that when we can sell a whole region, it is better for economic development.”

She went on to say that economic development is very competitive, and regionalism will be the difference in who’s successful and who’s not.

“In Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties, we are stronger together than separately,” she added.

Regionalism can also reach across state lines. George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation, is excited about the coming ThyssenKrupp steel plant in nearby Alabama. He said his organization’s efforts through the last few years will position the county to participate in the plant’s development.

“We lent assistance to the recruitment process, and I think we’ll reap benefits from suppliers for the plant,” he said. “We’re also in other talks as a region.”

Regionalism is a topic near and dear to Freeland. He currently serves as president of the Gulf Coast Regional Alliance that includes the six southernmost Mississippi counties. “All of our members are extraordinarily committed to regionalism and understand its role in this age,” he said.

He feels the area has a lot of focus within the Coast region and also as it pertains to synergies with Mobile and the Florida Panhandle and the commonality through the area. To promote the Interstate 10 aerospace corridor, Jackson County is preparing to participate in the Paris Air Show this month as a collaborative effort with Mobile.

Neil Honan of the Copiah County Economic Development District feels it’s a good thing for his area to be a part of a larger metro Jackson alliance.

“We’re a small community of 30,000, and we can’t duplicate with our funding what we have available through the alliance,” he said. “They have a high-class Web site that includes all the things site consultants are looking for. Looking at the Web site is typically the first thing and then they contact Jackson.”

Site visits are scheduled through Jackson, and Honan said they do a good job of scheduling visits. “Based on economics alone, it’s beneficial to be part of a region,” he said. “I personally and my county are very pleased with being part of it. Consistency and timing are part of it, and it’s a seamless thing.”

He says being part of the region becomes more important as rural areas such as Copiah County — located on Interstate 55 and near city cultural amenities — become more attractive to companies wanting to expand.

Starkville is part of the Golden Triangle with Columbus and West Point, and the regional concept is alive and well there, according to David Thornell, executive director of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.

“The Golden Triangle region shares an airport, a landfill and some joint property,” he said, “and we still feel we’ve barely tapped the potential of regionalism here. Any time we’ve worked together, it has proven successful. It adds to the basket of amenities we can offer prospects.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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