By CARL SMITH
After weeks of meetings, area representatives will unveil plans for a potential tri-county economic development agency 2 p.m. today at East Mississippi Community College’s Lyceum Building.
Business and government representatives from Oktibbeha, Clay and Lowndes counties will discuss organizing, funding and implementing the potential development authorities. Few details about the project’s cost or where the group’s base of operations will be located have been released.
Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins says the possible leg up a regional economic development authority could turn the Golden Triangle into a developer’s dream.
Oktibbeha County could play a major role in the tri-county development agency, Higgins said, due to Mississippi State University, its research and the economy it provides in Starkville. Also, development sites around Golden Triangle Regional Airport could help lure possible ventures. Combined with transportation regional transportation methods — including water and rail access in Lowndes — Higgins said the Golden Triangle could make a huge splash in the economic development world by competing together.
“If we can put these three counties together and have them all pushing the same way, I think (industries looking to come to Mississippi) would be hard pressed not to consider the Golden Triangle,” Higgins said. “Even areas in Mississippi itself are hard pressed to put together the resources these three counties can.”
Higgins would not comment on his possible role with the potential development organization.
In July, economic developers announced the formation of a steering committee representing the three counties charged with developing a partnership proposal by mid-September. Committee members 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 Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Marvell Howard, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman and Oktibbeha County Economic Development Agency Chairman Jack Wallace.
“The steering committee members showed up every week, went beyond meeting times and remained fully focused to this idea. Everyone got together to look out for their (counties) but also to look at the bigger picture,” Higgins said. “We’re all excited about what this project would do for the area.
Although no official details on funding sources or organizational structure have been released by steering committee members, Wallace said Monday his organization could budget at least $75,000 over the next two years to help support the new organization. Wallace also suggested OCEDA could remain the county’s primary point of contact for economic development.
“I’ve scheduled in (OCEDA’s budget) $75,000-$100,000 for the first two years (for the proposed development authority). Then it gets into legislations between cities and counties (for financial support),” Wallace said Monday. “We’d have three counties working together in cooperation in lieu of competition … We’re hoping this entity would be located on a neutral site … (and hoping for) someone who works for Oktibbeha County and Oktibbeha County alone, someone for Clay (and) someone for Lowndes … (who would be) devoted to those counties. Once someone comes into a county, then there’s OCEDA who deals with them coming in. Initially, we will be asked to support (the organization financially), and we should.”
The Greater Starkville Development Partnership, the city’s chief economic development and tourism agency, has been without a chief executive officer since Jon Maynard submitted his resignation in March. The GSDP Board of Trustees met several times since his departure to discuss the vacancy, but no formal action was taken to secure a new leader.
Developers have not commented on how the GSDP would function with a regional economic development consortium.
The first move toward multi-county cooperation was made in April when the West Point-Clay County Community Growth Alliance and the LINK signed a three-year affiliation agreement. That agreement kept the Growth Alliance as West Point’s and Clay County’s chamber of commerce and placed all economic development responsibility with Higgins’ LINK.