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Golden Triangle economic development model could be emulated across state

On Sept. 14, government and economic development officials in the Golden Triangle unveiled a plan for an economic development cooperative they say will become the model of regionalism in Mississippi.

The Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority will not officially arrive until October 2014. Until then, the Golden Triangle Development LINK (which was known as the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK) will handle the recruitment of industry to Starkville and Oktibbeha County, Columbus and Lowndes County and to West Point and Clay County.

The LINK’s new executive committee will be made up members from each county. The committee’s main objective will be implementing the plan that will eventually turn the new GTRD LINK into the GTRDA.

The consortium will have an annual operating budget of $2.5 million, 70 percent of which will come from public entities in the three counties that make up the Golden Triangle. The organization hopes to privately fund the remaining 30 percent via five-year agreements with area businesses.

The agreement was the result of a steering committee made up of representatives of each county. The plan was formulated after a series of committee meetings over the summer.

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The work of each county’s existing, individual economic development organizations will continue with the usual emphasis on retail development.

“There is still a very important local community development role to be played,” Starkville mayor Parker Wiseman said. “Cultivating the existing economy will be a big part of that. (The local organizations) just won’t have the responsibility of major industrial recruitment. That will be left up to the LINK.”

Wiseman said there will not be a tax increase necessary “in the short-run” to pay for Starkville and Oktibbeha County’s portion of the LINK’s budget. By 2014, when the LINK is scheduled to become the GTRDA, each city and county entity will have to decide if they can fund their $350,000 obligation without raising taxes as much as two mills.

This is the first set-up of its kind in Mississippi. Mississippi Development Authority spokesperson Dan Turner said there have been multiple instances of regions forging agreements to pursue particular projects — the PUL Alliance that helped land Toyota is the gold standard — but as far as different cities and counties pooling money to fund just one economic development agency, this is new to Mississippi.

“It’s not something that’s uncommon in states with larger metropolitan areas,” Turner said.

Ron Maloney, who will handle large-scale economic development for West Point and Clay County for the new LINK, came from Sarasota, Fla., which was part of a 10-county consortium with a similar agreement, he said.

“I know the power a region gets, versus a city or county trying to go it alone,” he said.

Phil Hardwick, coordinator of capacity development at Mississippi State’s Stennis Institute of Government, said it’s too early to determine if the new regional LINK will be the start of a trend.

“But, I think it will because some other places to at least look at the possibility,” he said. “We’re real good at doing initiatives for particular projects, and pooling resources for tourism or marketing, but this is pretty much unprecedented.”

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