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Officials eye new regional development group

July 13, 2012

Golden Triangle officials took the first step toward the formation of a new regional economic development agency Friday when they announced the assembly of an exploratory committee on the matter.

The committee, formed by economic development representatives of Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties, will submit a partnership proposal by Sept. 14, Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said Friday.

Members of the steering committee include Robbie Robinson, a retired Clay County chancery clerk and board member for the LINK and West Point-Clay County Community Growth Alliance, and Jackie Edwards, Growth Alliance co-chair (Clay County); attorney Gordon Flowers and Jim McAlexander, LINK Board president (Lowndes County); and Marvell Howard, Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors president, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman and Oktibbeha County Economic Development Agency Chairman Jack Wallace (Oktibbeha County).

“The Golden Triangle has long been recognized for its advanced economic development in north Mississippi. The three communities have partnered on various development opportunities that have been mutually beneficial to all parties for decades,” a Friday release from Higgins’ office stated.

Higgins said steering committee meeting dates could be scheduled as early as next week.

“We’ll probably meet Tuesday morning to get everyone to figure out when they’ll get together,” he said.

“There are a lot of moving parts and puzzles to this equation.”

The committee will be charged with exploring formation, purpose, governance, administration, funding, duties and implementation.

After the steering committee was named, Cadence CAO Mark Abernathy confirmed McAlexander resigned from his position as the bank’s Columbus-branch president. It was unclear at press time why McAlexander resigned from Cadence.

“In the past nine years, we’ve worked regional projects, always looking to develop our area cooperatively,” McAlexander said in the release. “The partnership being proposed will allow for development efforts to be taken to the next level for the Golden Triangle and shows a committed effort of teamwork between among all three counties.”

Howard said the chance for Oktibbeha County to join a new regional development agency is a great opportunity since the Greater Starkville Development Partnership is currently without a CEO. The GSDP, Starkville’s chief economic development agency, has been without a chief executive officer since Jon Maynard submitted his resignation in March. The GSDP Board of Trustees met following his resignation to discuss the vacancy, but no formal action has been taken to secure a new leader.

“I’m pretty excited about the possibility that might be out there for regional economic development,” Howard said. “The steering committee will pretty much lay out the foundation for the way we want to see this develop. It will also bring each county’s and city’s individuality to the table. After everybody’s individuality is laid on table, then we’ll work to see how we can mesh into one economic development authority that will benefit the entire area.”

Wiseman, too, said he shares Howard’s optimism for future development under a possible regional authority. Lowndes, Clay and Oktibbeha counties, he said, all hold advantages that, when banded, can provide more opportunities to attract outside investments in jobs and retail.

“With the assets that each of the communities in the Golden Triangle brings to the table, a regional team approach as community partners could put us in a position for the future economic development of the region that would be second to no one in the state of Mississippi,” Wiseman said. “Small communities have advantages, such as safety, familiarity and quality of life associated with small-town living; however, there are disadvantages that must be overcome, such as population density and transportation access. That’s where regional cooperation really stands to eliminate disadvantages and maximize advantages. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and it will be very important to me to pursue this as diligently as I can.”

The pursuit of a new tri-county economic development authority comes only two months after the West Point-Clay County Community Growth Alliance and the LINK signed a three-year affiliation agreement which kept the Growth Alliance as West Point’s and Clay County’s chamber of commerce, while placing all economic development responsibility with Higgins’ LINK.

“We in West Point recognize that a regional development effort produces positive results for all three counties,” Edwards said in the release. “With our new megasite and abundant infrastructure, West Point has much to contribute to the regional effort. When one county does well, we all achieve success.”

West Point Mayor Scott Ross was unavailable for comment Friday.

Officials would not comment about how a possible regional economic development agency would be funded.

“Each community brings something unique to the partnership,” GSDP Board of Trustees President Steve Langston said in the release. “Starkville, being home to Mississippi State University, brings an abundance of resources required to compete for the next generation of advanced business opportunities.”

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