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Economic developers paying close attention in Third District

The First Congressional District is not the only area of Mississippi that will have a new congressman come this time next year.

Since the mid 1990s Chip Pickering has represented the Third District, which runs southwest from Starkville to McComb to the Mississippi-Louisiana line. Pickering will retire when this term expires early next year.

Nine candidates have qualified to participate in the election to replace Pickering. The primary is March 11. A runoff will be two weeks later. The top two candidates from each party will advance to the general election November 4.

The First and Third districts are similar also in that they will lose some of the advantages of their congressman having gained seniority.

Pickering was widely recognized as an expert in the telecommunications field. What his retirement means for economic development in the district is still unclear.

In the mold

But Britt Herrin, executive director of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development District in McComb, would like to see someone who fits Pickering’s mold.

“We need somebody who will utilize federal resources and grant money to funnel projects this way,” Herrin said. “Hopefully somebody will see those as roles they can play. We’ll have to play catch-up a little bit because of the seniority system that’s in place in D.C. But the really great ones can find ways to exert influence and overcome that.”

Congressional help vital

Wade Jones, president of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, said that area has staked its economic future to the automotive and aviation industries. He wants whoever wins the seat to help the Meridian-based organization develop two of its priorities: the Kewanee site on the Mississippi-Alabama line that the EMBDC plans to market to auto manufacturers, much like the three-county alliance did in securing the Toyota plant near Tupelo in the First District, and the Hawkins Crossing Interchange that will serve the I-20/I-59 industrial park.

“We want a pro-business environment for economic development,” Jones said, adding that business and industry often ask for some sort of economic assistance before settling on a venue, and that congressional help is vital to securing that assistance. Because of its status as a not-for-profit organization, the EMBDC, like most other chambers of commerce, cannot endorse a particular candidate. But Jones said a congressman who works to secure grant money for infrastructure and similar projects greases the wheel for economic development.

Education and training

On top of being economic development-friendly, Jones said a congressman who values education and realizes the importance of workforce training, especially in eliminating the stigma surrounding vocational training, is critical.

“Those are the characteristics we want,” Jones said. “We want proponents of the statutes that affect business at every level of government – state, local and congressional.”

At issue in Forest in Scott County are the chamber of commerce’s efforts to return its downtown area to the center of commerce and entertainment.

Mindi Arender, executive director of the Forest Chamber, just wants whoever is elected to be cooperative.

“I would like to see (the winner) partner with the chambers of small towns to try and revitalize the downtowns,” Arender said. “Everything is moving toward the interstate. I understand that because that’s what draws people in, but there has to be more to it than that. Our downtown is really struggling, and it needs some help.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

About Clay Chandler

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