Since Sept. 14, two have been made public. Chickasaw County officials decided in late September that they would pursue a partnership with Pontotoc and Union counties. Last Monday afternoon, officials from Choctaw, Webster and Montgomery counties announced they were forming a union of their own.
Stone-Adams, a business development and consulting firm in Jackson, will handle economic development for the three counties as they form the partnership.
“This is a very good opportunity for Mississippi to show how collaboration and cooperation can provide a model for sustainable economic development,” Stone-Adams founder Nick Walters said in a press release.
The conglomeration will be called the Regional Economic Partnership of Mississippi when it starts operation, which should be by the end of the year, Walters said in a phone interview last week. Walters said the idea arose about six months ago among supervisors from Choctaw and Webster counties as his firm’s professional services contract to handle economic development for Choctaw County was getting close to expiration. Montgomery County entered the discussion shortly thereafter.
Since then, each board of supervisors has voted to officially join the group and has started the process of appointing REPMS board members.
“This is about creating jobs that are accessible to the available workforces in our counties,” said Montgomery County supervisor Ron Wood. “When so many people commute across county and development district lines, it only makes sense to bring those counties and districts together to create opportunities that benefit the greatest number of people.”
Eupora and Winona, the county seats of Webster and Montgomery counties, are separated by 30 miles of four-lane Highway 82. The Choctaw County seat of Ackerman is just south and halfway between each.
Just off a Choctaw County portion of Highway 9, which connects Eupora and Ackerman, sits North American Coal’s Red Hills Mine. The mine has been in operation since 2000 and delivers 3.5 million tons of lignite coal per year to the Red Hills Power Plant, which provides electricity to the Tennessee Valley Authority under a 30-year agreement. The mine is one of the largest employers in the three-county area.
“People in Webster County drive to work in Montgomery County; people in Montgomery County drive to the mines in Choctaw County,” said Pat Cummings, president of the Webster County Board of Supervisors. “This kind of a partnership is just a natural fit for us as we continue to bring industry and development to this region of Mississippi.”
Walters said it was unlikely that local and private legislation would be required to validate the partnership. That could change, he said, if the three counties were to jointly develop an industrial park and split the revenue generated by tenants there.
Mississippi State University’s College of Business will offer its programs and resources to assist the new partnership get operational and to help it further its mission once it’s online.