Columbus organization working to bring projects to West Point, Clay County

Under a deal struck in April, the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link will pursue large industrial development for West Point and Clay County.

The two entities will also split the revenue from resulting industries.

Under the terms of the deal, whose concept was hatched when West Point’s economic development chief left town several months ago, the Link would receive 10 percent of resulting tax revenues; the other 90 percent would be split among West Point and Clay County. West Point and Clay County are also paying the Link $350,000 per year.

The centerpiece of the partnership’s sales pitch is a 1,000-acre megasite that sits on U.S. 45 Alternate in Clay County. Environmental testing is underway on the site, which officials hope will be ready to market to prospects soon.

It sits close to the old Sara Lee facilities, which gives it a base of built-in infrastructure. With Sara Lee having closed several years ago, eliminating more than 2,000 jobs, the area’s workforce should be ample, said Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Link.

The Tennessee Valley Authority recently upgraded its transmission capabilities in the area to handle additional large utility needs.

“From where I sit, West Point’s probably in the best position since they’ve done their deal with us,” Higgins said. “They’ve split their chamber and economic development up, they’ve got somebody hired to run their Main Street and chamber and all that. They’ve done all the heavy lifting.”

Cynthia Wilson, director of community development for the West Point Growth Alliance, said the new person the Link will hire to focus solely on industrial development in West Point and Clay County will have an office in the Alliance’s building, though he or she will be based primarily out of Columbus.

The Alliance’s mission, Wilson said, will center on retail development, supporting the Main Street program and maintaining West Point’s status as a certified retirement community.

“The partnership will be a really beneficial thing for these two counties,” Wilson said. The region’s community colleges and their training programs, to go with Mississippi State and the Mississippi University for Women, make the area ripe for workforce training, Wilson said.

Combine that with existing rail infrastructure, multiple four-lane highways and the regional airport in Columbus, and the area has a lot to offer a prospect, she said.

“We have things that other communities would love to have. The quality of life in this area makes it an attractive location, too.”

Perhaps the gold standard for regional economic development partnerships is the PUL Alliance, comprised of officials from Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties. Formed several years ago, PUL officials established as their primary mission landing an automotive manufacturer for the Wellspring megasite off U.S. 78 in Sherman.

That mission was accomplished late last year, when Toyota started building the Corolla.

“Whenever the (PUL Alliance) was formed and other communities saw the success they had, it gave a lot of people pause,” Wilson said. “We all saw the need to link our communities.”

Link CEO Higgins said the days of communities like West Point and Columbus going it alone to pursue large economic development projects are over, only because the cost of doing so has risen dramatically.

“If West Point weren’t partnering with us, I’m not sure they could have the program that they’re going to have working with us,” he said. “Not that we’re Jesus Christ walking on water, it’s just that the economies of scale require it.

“We’re hiring an economic developer for West Point,” Higgins continued. “But, the bottom line is we’ve got the whole staff in this office that if a big project comes to West Point and we have to get something ready, we’ll have seven people working on it instead of one person putting it together.”

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