Cynthia Wilson hasn’t been an economic developer long but she brings a wealth of experiences and a strong commitment to her position as executive director of the Webster County Development Council.
The Yazoo City native graduated from Sturgis High School and went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in home economics education from Mississippi State University (MSU). She taught school and worked as a designer for Van Landingham Lumber Company in Starkville before moving to Webster County in 1983 to work with the MSU Extension Service.
“That’s what brought me to Webster County, and it’s become home,” she said. “I joined the Economic Development Council here in 1983 because I had an interest in seeing the county grow and prosper.”
After retirement from the Extension Service, Wilson went to work with the development council in 2005. She finds that in some ways it’s not so different from what she was doing before retirement. “We do community development in the Extension Service,” she said. “I worked with the whole county and know people in business, agriculture, and as individuals. Their support has been valuable in my role as director.”
She hastens to add that her new role has been a learning thing. “I’ve gotten to know people in economic development in other counties who’ve been helpful,” she said. “Carol (Hardwick) at the MEDC (Mississippi Economic Development Council), the people at the Mississippi Development Authority and Chandler Russ with TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) have helped me a lot. Phil Hardwick was a tremendous help with strategic planning sessions with the cities and county. That gave me a better understanding of what they need.”
Wilson has participated in numerous courses and training sessions that TVA and other organizations have had. “I’ve had assistance from them in responding to requests for information from prospects, putting together presentations and developing a Web site,” she added.
The challenges of the job are being the only person in the office and facing the financial restraints of a rural county trying to recruit businesses and industry. “We don’t have some things financially and we don’t have a lot of tax revenue coming back,” she said.
On the positive side, Webster County has low taxes and has two industrial parks available in Eupora and Mathiston. The county is trying to recruit automotive suppliers and residents who may work in new industries coming into the Golden Triangle.
“The county is considered a distressed county and gets those incentives,” Wilson said. “The city and county governments work with industries on those.”
Residents of the sparsely populated county can take advantage of an E.H. Sumner Foundation grant that provides scholarships to attend a long list of colleges and universities in the state.
“We’re one of five counties that can do that and it’s a tremendous benefit to young people,” she said.
The county’s main industries include Plymouth Tube, W.W. Sly air purification systems manufacturers, Front Line Apparel, Hawkeye Manufacturing and Dixie Craft Trailers.
“I enjoy being able to see changes and growth in the communities and the county,” Wilson said. “We haven’t been as successful in attracting industry as I would like, but we’re trying to pull the whole county together.”
Toward that end, she began a council of governments to better position the county for future growth. Membership in the development council is increasing, too. When Wilson took the job in 2005, membership was down to 46, an all-time low. Now, it’s up to 90 members and growing.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.