By CARL SMITH
2012 marked a year of transition for business endeavors as Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Clay counties banded together to pursue future economic development.
Following a leadership vacuum at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, the group, along with local governing bodies, contracted with the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK for economic development and attraction initiatives in late October. In March, the GSDP Board of Trustees accepted former GSDP CEO Jon Maynard’s resignation.
The LINK, which signed a similar development deal with the West Point-Clay County Community Growth Alliance in January, now serves as the primary economic development engine for the Golden Triangle and was recently rebranded as the Golden Triangle Development LINK to reflect its area representation.
The development deal signed by the Starkville Board of Aldermen, Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors, GSDP and Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority serves as an interim contract while LINK and area developers draft the foundation needed for the Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority, a more-permanent tri-county economic development group officials say will serve as the gold standard for regional economic development in Mississippi.
Representatives unveiled plans for establishing the GTRDA by 2014 in September at East Mississippi Community College. With the first phase — interim development agreements — complete, officials are now turning their attention to hiring a economic developer which will personally oversee business attraction in Oktibbeha County.
Last week, LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said four finalists emerged in his organizations search for the position. Candidate interviews, he said, will begin soon and continue a week into the new year.
Higgins also identified a target hiring date — Jan. 15 — and a potential starting date — March 1 — but he said he hopes both occur sooner rather than later.
Jorgenson Consulting, a recruitment firm with offices in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland and North Carolina, worked with the LINK to identify candidates for the new position. The position, formally listed as vice president of the LINK/Starkville-Oktibbeha on the firm’s website, sought candidates that will solicit industries for the county, develop expansion and retention opportunities, work with state and regional economic development agencies and serve as a project manager to ensure client needs are met during all stages of business attraction. The future vice president will work closely with Higgins and the LINK for the organization’s tri-county development goals.
The LINK also expanded its board of trustees and executive board for Oktibbeha County representation in November. GSDP Board President Steve Langston and Coldwell Banker Associate Broker Michelle Amos will represent county interests on the LINK Executive Board. Along with Langston and Amos, Cadence Bank CAO Mark Abernathy and retired businessperson Zelma Talley will serve on the LINK Board of Directors.
During that same November LINK meeting, the organization approved a $1.64 million operating budget. Of that total, $350,000 was committed from both Oktibbeha and Clay counties, while Lowndes County committed $943,150. Almost $1 million is budgeted for personnel expenses, while almost $700,000 is set aside for programs, overhead and special expenses.