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PHIL HARDWICK — A Q&A with Knox Ross

PHIL HARDWICK

It’s been a while since I had a chance to visit with former Pelahatchie Mayor Knox Ross so I reached out to him online. Here’s my interview with the personable and accomplished Ross.

  1. What are you doing these days?

I am completing an 11-month assignment as the CEO of the Coordinating and Development Corporation in Shreveport. The CDC is an economic development and workforce training organization that serves the ten parishes of Northwest Louisiana and coordinates efforts in Arkansas and Texas. Most of my time here has been spent restructuring the organization and placing it on firm financial footing for the future. I am returning to Mississippi after the end of my assignment here, but I will remain associated with the organization as a consultant for the next year. It has been a great experience to learn how other states and other local governments operate. It certainly makes me appreciate some things that Mississippi does better, but also makes me aware of areas for improvement.

I also spend a good bit of time doing my work with the Southern Rail Commission, principally promoting the reestablishment of Amtrak service east of New Orleans and on the I-20 corridor. I am also doing work as a consultant for turnaround situations and for government related interests. I enjoy serving as a “fixer” of sorts.

  1. What is the Southern Rail Commission?

The SRC is a commission created by an act of Congress to engage and inform public and private rail interests to support and influence Southeast rail initiatives. It consists of the states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and our commissioners are appointed by our respective Governors. Our commission has been in existence since 1982, and was instrumental in not only establishing Amtrak service on the Gulf Coast, but served as the operator of the daily service between New Orleans and Mobile in the 1990’s. We work closely with Amtrak, our host freight railroad partners, and our federal, state, and local elected officials to improve existing Amtrak services and to work toward new service on the Gulf Coast, I-20, and Baton Rouge/New Orleans corridors. We worked closely with Senators Cochran and Wicker to form the Gulf Coast Working Group that recently reported to Congress on the requirements to restart Amtrak service on the Gulf Coast. We also worked with Senator Cochran to provide assistance to our Coast cities to prepare their stations to receive the new service.  We keep an ongoing record of our work on our website at www.southernrailcommission.org

  1. How did you get involved in it?

Kay Kell, the former City Manager of Pascagoula, a commissioner and former Chairman, asked Governor Barbour to appoint me. She sees the economic benefit of transportation choices, especially one like passenger rail that would bring people to the hearts of the cities along the coast. I shared her vision, and she continues to be a champion of passenger rail in this state and I remain grateful to her for the opportunity. My involvement with the SRC has allowed me to tell our story and work closely with leaders from around the country who are at the forefront of providing transportation choices to their citizens and positioning their areas to be competitive in the fast evolving world economy.

  1. What spurred you interest in railroading?

I have always been fascinated with trains and transportation in general. After becoming mayor, and being able to learn more about the interaction of economic development and transportation, I began to pay more attention to it. I had the privilege of serving as Chair of the Transportation Advocacy Committee for the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, and as Chair of the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Jackson Metropolitan Statistical Area. Senator Wicker has been a great supporter of transportation, especially coordinating the multiple forms to make it easier and more efficient for people and goods to move from place to place. The SRC’s work with he and his staff has opened several doors for me to learn more about passenger and freight rail and its role in our transportation system. The more I learn, the more interesting it becomes.

  1. As a former mayor of a successful small town what advice would you give to a new small town mayor?

Make friends with other successful mayors. They are delighted to share their knowledge, many times because they are also looking for new ideas. Take advantage of the educational and networking opportunities provided by the Mississippi Municipal League. These relationships have been invaluable to me. Participate in your Planning and Development District. The Central PDD, especially Mitzi Stubbs, did more to help our town prosper than anyone. Principally, just listen. I have so many people that have given me good, sound advice. I find that, so many times, there is a great temptation when in elected office, to think you are all of the sudden very smart and know all the answers. Just always remember one never knows all the answers and there is always an opportunity to learn a new, better way. Also, be able to admit when you are wrong. A rare thing in elective office, but necessary nonetheless.

  1. What was your proudest accomplishment as Mayor?

Changing the perception of our town. Working with a great team of Aldermen and employees to make Pelahatchie a town it citizens could be proud of.

  1. Do you miss politics?

I miss my mayor friends and the interaction with them. I miss working on and thinking about the opportunities and problems that Pelahatchie faces. I still operate in the political world with regard to the SRC and working with local governments. The rest of it?  No.

  1. What are your future plans?

I am now back in Pelahatchie full time. I am working on our SRC projects and pursuing opportunities to work with business and government entities to make them more efficient and responsive. I plan to put the unique knowledge I have gained in both the business and government sectors to work helping others.

» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is phil@philhardwick.com.

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