By CARL SMITH
By pooling assets, acting cooperatively and adopting an “all-in” mentality, local leaders say the tri-county area could become the most attractive region in Mississippi for economic development.
And now, those leaders say they have a winning plan.
Local government and business representatives unveiled a two-phase plan to establish the Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority, a new economic development engine charged with creating regional growth in Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Clay counties, in October 2014.
The first phase of the plan calls for a temporary agreement between local governments and economic developers — the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors, the city of Starkville and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership — and the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link.
Economic development initiatives during the interim phase — October through September 2014 — will be led by the LINK.
The LINK, which previously entered to a similar agreement with the West Point-Clay County Growth Alliance, will then be rebranded as the Golden Triangle Development LINK.
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Marvell Howard said the county will be responsible for $350,000 in funding for the interim development group — a figure similar to what the WPCCGA gives the LINK — once it formally enters into the agreement in October.
This week, Oktibbeha County Economic Development Agency President Jack Wallace said his agency will budget $75,000-$100,000 to help fund the agency for two years. Although the county’s approved fiscal year budget does not have a line item for this specific funding, Howard said County Administrator Don Posey will look for budget room and shift money to economic development. The county can amend its budget with a board vote.
“We absolutely are not expecting a millage increase,” Howard said.”There are areas in our budget that are flexible, and Don is always able to dip into those areas when needed.”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman also said last week the city budget does not have a specific line item to fund the new economic development agency, but aldermen can also amend the city’s budget as needed.
It is not known how much the two governments will set aside to fund the project respectively, and OCEDA’s budget was not formally adopted in its previous meeting. Funding sources, Howard said, must be in place Oct. 1 since representatives are expected to enter into the agreement with the LINK then.
Phase two calls for the formation of GTRDA through local and private legislation introduced during the 2014 Mississippi Legislature session. The GTRDA’s estimated annual budget is projected at $2.3-$2.5 million. Developers say 70 percent of that funding will come from Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Clay counties and their respective governments, while the remaining 30 percent will come from the privately established Lowndes-Oktibbeha-Clay County Development Foundation. The foundation will be funded proportionally from retail and industry communities in each participating counties, but public funding will be guaranteed by the authority of each county to levy up to 2 mills unless individual governments can find existing monies. If needed, the proposed implementation schedule calls for additional millage to be levied in any of the three counties beginning in May 2014.
As for interim representation, the Golden Triangle Development LINK will add four new Oktibbeha County directors to its board. Two of those directors will serve on the board’s executive committee. The GTRDA will establish a nine-member, public-private board of directors. Under this plan, each county board of supervisors will appoint a director from its area, and the LOCCDF will appoint one director from each county. The initial six directors will then nominate three directors whose appointment requires confirmation by their respective board of supervisors. Initially, foundation (six years), board of supervisors (four years) and GTRDA board nominees (two years) will have staggered service terms, but subsequent terms for all positions will run six years. Because of the term scheduling, the board will not experience a total changeover during any cycle. The GTRDA Board of Directors should be appointed by August 2014.
The GTRDA is expected to staff nine agents, including a chief executive officer, three county-assigned economic developers for each county, a public relations/governmental affairs specialist and four clerical and support staff members. LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins has not confirmed he will head the GTRDA, but many area economic developers acknowledged Higgins’ proven track record of landing large deals in Lowndes County.
While county-specific economic developers are already in place in Lowndes and Clay counties, a search for Oktibbeha County’s agent is scheduled to begin in October. Higgins said that search, which will utilize a national search agency, could yield a hire by January.
Each city will operate its own chamber of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, Main Street associations and other community development efforts under the proposed plan. Jennifer Gregory, GSDP chief operating officer and vice president for tourism, said the partnership fully supports the proposed economic development plan and will begin discussing its benefits to the community.
“I think the model they proposed really has the potential to positively impact community development. We have a really strong chamber, visitors bureau and Main Street association. Leaving those entities intact will really help the partnership remain a driving force for Starkville,” she said. “We look forward to working with our membership to educate them on the possibilities and the details that will be forthcoming. We want to generate support throughout the community for what we think is an extremely positive plan for economic growth and development.”
According to the proposed GTRDA implementation schedule, public reviews will begin in October and are scheduled through December. Presentations to community groups and newly elected officials will follow January through May 2013. Economic developers will begin seeking resolutions of support from stakeholders in June 2013.
The proposed plan will be posted to the LINK’s website — http://www.cldlink.org/  — Monday morning.