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Snake-oil salesmen make a killing in the name of economic development

December 1st, 2011 3 comments

Most every little town in Mississippi — from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico — has an economic development arm.

Presidents of growth alliances, economic development associations, or whatever each town prefers to call its version, routinely make anywhere from $60,000 to more than $100,000 to lure big business to small-town Mississippi. We are talking about paying that kind of money in towns with populations ranging from 9,000 to around 20,000.

In many cases, the economic development expert has left one small town for another, hoping to accomplish in the latter what he or she failed to accomplish in the former.

It’s not necessary for these towns to pay that kind of money for an “Economic Development President” to travel, eat nice meals and make phone calls when — in most cases — the only thing the town gets in return is a fatter, more well-traveled “Economic Development President.”

While some may argue that now — in this economic climate — is the absolute best time to hire aggressive economic developers, this really is the worst time to waste money when other more productive and important departments — like fire and police services or education — are being cut to the bone or cut out all-together.

We scream about wasteful government spending on the national level. Yet, when there is duplicitous spending on the local level, we find ways to rationalize the process. There is no reason to have small-town economic developers when, just up the road, there is generally an economic development agency that serves the entire region — such as the statewide Mississippi Development Authority.

There have been calls at the national level of getting rid of large-scale economic development agencies, such as — although not specifically mentioned — the MDA.

In an op-ed to The Wall Street Journal in June, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a Tea Party stalwart dedicated to reducing the size of the government, called for the elimination of the Economic Development Administration. He says the EDA’s efforts duplicate existing federal programs.

While I am certain there is much fat to be trimmed, the MDA’s overall work is needed to facilitate economic progress.

Towns need to think about consolidating, using existing services and working regionally. The best example of regionalism at work in the last 50 years in Mississippi is in Northeast Mississippi, where companies have located in and around Tupelo with little selfish pushback in individual communities.

Toyota recognized that, and placed its new production facility near the interstate-like U.S. 78 and U.S. 45 intersection as people from as far away as Corinth, Columbus, Oxford and across the state line in Alabama will drive to Blue Springs to work.

The bottom line is that in small towns around the state, essential services like police, fire, education and infrastructure repairs are being slashed or eliminated in the name of fiscal responsibility. In the mean time, as much as $100,000 is being handed out to the president of an economic development organization who is making claims of working hard on the next big thing — when the only thing of significance that might be getting done is making sure the local farmers market has a clean working area for the spring and summer months.

People will come Ray; they will come for B.B.

May 27th, 2011 Comments off

Hey, I realize it’s baseball season, and the Red Sox are on a roll, but please forgive me because I apparently have the movie “Field of Dreams” on my mind.
I think I even responded to my wife, Sarah, last night, saying, “It’s OK, honey. I… I was just talking to the cornfield.”
Fantasy is fun to play with from time to time. You know, you see a billboard that reads, “Lottery, $125 million,” and you immediately begin to think about what you would do with the money.
Uh, No. 1, buy a luxury suite at Fenway Park.
Oh, sorry.
Dreaming?
Well, I must be, because the Mississippi Business Journal has reported that the Farish Street Entertainment District boondoggle that everyone (I mean everyone) said would never happen, has signed a 15-year lease with an old blues guy.
Maybe you know of him.
He’s from Indianola — a guy by the name of Riley.
No, he’s not my cousin. We spell ours funny.
Anyway, I think his momma was the only one to call him that.
Most folks just call him B.B.
Yep, the B.B. King’s Blues Club, in conjunction with Beale Street Blues Co., has signed a 15-year lease on the former Star Laundry building on Farish Street, putting in place a key element in the plans of Watkins Development to bring life back to a street that once served as a key entertainment and shopping destination for Jackson’s African-American residents.
Build it and they will come, the voice in the cornfield said.
Well, if there were ever time to believe the voice, now may be it.
When I lived in Greenville years ago, there were lots of swirling rumors that representatives of B.B. King were involved to financing everything from a downtown entertainment district to a casino and blues museum.
However, King’s representatives would never comment when we called for confirmation.
So, imagine my level of scoffing when I arrived in Jackson three years ago and immediately led on a tour of the proposed Farish Street project with the dream of having B.B. King anchor the district.
Yeah, well, I had heard that song and dance before.
OK, so now I am on board.
If B.B. King’s Blues Club indeed arrives at the corners of Amite and Farish as the anchor for the entire district, you can begin the countdown on the announcement that success has been realized in the revitalization of downtown Jackson.
There will still be doubters. There always are, but “Ray, people will come.
“They’ll come to (Jackson) for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up (on Farish Street) not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive … as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere … (like) when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch … and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. But (blues) has marked the time. This (place) … it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Sure, I know I am the crazy guy in the cornfield, but I believe that an event like this can be the tipping point for an entire community, a business district and ultimately a city.
People will come.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Waveland mayor should cancel raise, not postpone

January 11th, 2011 Comments off

The Waveland Board of Aldermen has postponed raises for themselves and the city’s newly-elected mayor. Did you get that?

They have postponed their raises, when they should have been canceled.

The Sun Herald reports the four-member board voted unanimously in a special-called meeting yesterday to defer their raises until they can be discussed more fully during budget negotiations, which Mayor David Garcia said would start as soon as March.

These people just don’t get it.

According to the report from The Sun Herald, Garcia said he only recently learned the raises could be deferred. Garcia acknowledged that he and the board have been ridiculed by some residents over the raises, but said that did not play a part in the board’s decision.

Not only is Garcia a terrible mayor, he is a liar too.

Last month, the aldermen voted to give themselves and Garcia pay raises. Then earlier this month, the city fired 11 workers and cut the hours of four others in a cost-cutting move.

Is there any doubt Garcia will be a one-and-done mayor?

Not here.

Waveland mayor has lost his mind; Garcia should resign

January 5th, 2011 Comments off

You really can’t make this stuff up.

It was just a few weeks ago I wrote:

Did you read last week about the Waveland mayor and alderman giving themselves a raise?
No, it is not a joke.
When virtually everyone in the United States has done without a raise for the last 18 to 24 months, the Waveland Board of Aldermen has voted to increase salaries for the next four years for themselves and the mayor.
And by 20 percent!

OK, now comes word that the city of Waveland has laid off 11 workers and reduced four full-time positions to part-time.

The Board of Aldermen voted 3-1 early Wednesday morning after a 3½-hour executive session that began Tuesday night.

Mayor David Garcia says the move was made because of shortfalls in the budget.

However, Garcia has not returned phone calls from the Mississippi Business Journal requesting an interview.

The layoffs include seven public works employees, which includes the four full time to part-time workers; a court clerk; a city hall clerk and six in the police department that did not include any patrolmen.

There are more than 100 city employees. Garcia says the city expects to save $800,000 in salaries and benefits.

So, while 11 folks are without a job, Garcia has a little extra money to buy groceries.

Maybe his plan all along was to have extra personal cash so he could help support the poor bastards he was about to send to the unemployment lines.

Garcia’s salary was raised in mid-December from $60,000 to $72,000 annually. He was making $63,383 a year as fire chief.

Aldermen, paid $14,400 annually, will bring in $1,200 more a year.

As I said in a previous column, how arrogant must you be to vote yourself a payraise during the worst recession in 80 years?

But to then turn around and lay off 11 people is the ultimate slap in the face.

Maybe, in this economic climate, cuts needed to be made. But to make the cuts after giving yourself a raise proves, not only a lack of sensitivity, but a lack of intelligence.

When Garcia and his henchmen originally gave themselves a raise, we suggested that things would take care of themselves at the next election.

The last time I remember a mayor voting himself a raise was in Indianola, Mississippi.

That was a couple of years ago.

Last year, the incumbent mayor was ousted by Steve Rosenthal, largely because voters believed they had been taken for granted.

I suggested that Garcia and the Waveland Board of Alderman, should figure out a way to make this salary issue right, or wait until the next election, because the voters will take care of it.

However, after this latest gaff, it’s time for Garcia to resign.

He obviously has no idea what he is doing.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Hey, Waveland mayor, I could use a raise, too

December 15th, 2010 Comments off

OK, I am officially confused.
Did you read last week about the Waveland mayor and alderman giving themselves a raise?
No, it is not a joke.
When virtually everyone in the United States has done without a raise for the last 18 to 24 months, the Waveland Board of Aldermen has voted to increase salaries for the next four years for themselves and the mayor.
And by 20 percent!
(I don’t like to use explanation points much in columns, but I feel like the one I used in the above paragraph is needed … as well as the one in the paragraph below.)
They gave themselves raises of 20 percent!
According to the Associated Press, under the city’s special charter, Mayor David Garcia says that the board must set the salaries for themselves, the mayor and the city clerk at their first meeting.
The board and Garcia were elected Dec. 7 and were sworn in Dec. 8. They held their first meeting Dec. 9, but recessed until Dec. 13 without voting on the salary issue.
Garcia’s salary was raised from $60,000 to $72,000 annually. He was making $63,383 a year as fire chief.
Aldermen, paid $14,400 annually, will bring in $1,200 more a year.
Garcia said the board voted not to give a raise to City Clerk Lisa Planchard.
I called to ask why Mrs. Planchard was not included in the Waveland Raise Club. However, Mayor Garcia didn’t return my calls.
Must have been out Christmas shopping.
If you haven’t read Jack Elliott’s column on Page 25 of our upcoming print edition, let me give you a preview. You can read the rest after you finish mine.
Leaders of two of Mississippi’s most politically active associations of public officials are approaching the 2011 session with similar views – an election-year Legislature is no arena for new, expensive ideas.
“You can’t have a huge agenda during a year like this,” said Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, whose 410 members are also up for election in 2011.
Someone tell me when the recession ended. … Someone tell me when Gov. Haley Barbour stopped talking about the worst of the state’s economic woes are still to come.

How arrogant must you be to vote yourself a payraise during the worst recession in 80 years?
Hancock County has 9 percent unemployment, which, compared to the rest of the state, isn’t bad.
Still and yet, 9 percent of the people in Hancock County are unemployed. That is a lot.
The per capita income for Waveland is $16,413, and 13.7 percent of the population and 11.6 percent of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 15.6 percent of those under the age of 18 and 11.7 percent of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.
Granted, the salaries for the jobs of the mayor and the alderman are not a lot. However, when these folks ran for office, they knew what the salaries were.
Most of us, when we take a job, we also know what the salary is before we accept it. The difference between us and the Waveland leaders is that we don’t get to boost our salary once in the job just because we think we deserve it.
Hell, most folks deserve a raise, but don’t get it, particularly in these economic times.
The last time I remember a mayor voting himself a raise was in Indianola, Mississippi.
That was a couple of years ago.
Last year, the incumbent mayor was ousted by Steve Rosenthal, largely because voters believed they had been taken for granted.
So, I will say this.
Mayor Garcia and the Waveland Board of Alderman, you can figure out a way to make this salary issue right, or you can just wait until the next election, because the voters will do it for you.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Issues the same in Indianola

October 25th, 2009 Comments off

Issues are issues no matter where you end up in Mississippi.
That’s one of the things I learned last week while moderating a mayoral debate in Indianola.
This Sunflower County town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta is battling the same problems that everyone is battle whether there or West Point or Natchez or Pascagoula.
Indianola needs better streets and schools, safer neighborhoods and more businesses.
The residents seem to be wanting a change of leadership, and they came to the Sunflower County Courthouse looking for answers from four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.
Mayor Arthur Marble has been in office for the last eight years and is fighting to keep his office.
The challengers are a local businessman (Steve Rosenthal), a retired military officer (John Matthews) and a retired businessman (Clanton Beamon).
All of this came the same day that Alan Canning Company in Sunflower County announced that 140 jobs would be eliminated.
That was big news as the vast majority of the jobs are filled by folks from Indianola.
Sunflower County already has an unemployment rate of 11.8 percent, and the loss of another 140 jobs will be a tough pill to swallow.
Yet, none of the candidates really had an answer about what to do about unemployment.
“We have to try and recruit more business to town,” one candidate said.
“We need to bring businesses like a Red Lobster, something Greenville and Greenwood don’t have,” another said.
“We have to look for businesses that are willing to relocate to Indianola,” still another said.
Heard those answers before?
That could have been at the mayoral debate in most any small town in Mississippi.
But no one had a solution.
We need better schools, they all said.
Another said he will hold the school board accountable.
Still another said parents need to get more involved.
Yet, no specific answers.
When it came to the tax base for Indianola, none of the candidates new the exact number for sales tax numbers.
They all had a general idea, but facing uncertain times, no one had really done their homework.
They all want to work with other communities to bring more jobs to the area.
But there were no specifics.
Likely, there are two candidates that have a better understanding of the issues than the others, but, like so many communities in our great state, a specific plan needs to be in place.