By STEVEN NALLEY
Leaders of local business, government and education celebrated the Greater Starkville Development Partnership’s successes and discussed its role in the Golden Triangle Development LINK at the GSDP’s annual banquet Thursday in the Hunter Henry Center.
In his keynote address, Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum said several recent and forthcoming improvements on and near the MSU campus illustrate the power of cooperation. For example, he said, the Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit system set to launch this fall was first conceived at a monthly local Community Roundtable Luncheon, and the repaving of Blackjack Road would not have been possible without cooperation between MSU, Starkville and Oktibbeha County.
The latter project made another transportation project possible, Keenum said, one that has already been funded and planned. He said this new, four-mile south entrance road will connect to Blackjack Road, continue past the Wise Center, travel through South Farm and pass the Mississippi Horse Park before ending at Poorhouse Road.
Because collaboration has worked so well, Keenum said, he is pleased with the GSDP’s decision to partner with the Golden Triangle Development LINK.
“I want to commend your forward-looking actions,” Keenum said. “MSU fully supports the regional effort, although we will never forget that our mutually beneficial relationship with Starkville and Oktibbeha County will continue to be of preeminent importance to us. What’s good for Starkville and Oktibbeha County is good for MSU, and vice versa.
There is no reason under the sun why our goals and aspirations that we have should not be perfectly aligned.”
Keenum said he was also pleased to see MSU alumnus Joey Deason join the LINK as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Economic Development for Starkville and Oktibbeha County. Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority President Jack Wallace introduced Deason at the banquet, and he said he was excited to have Deason on board.
“Joey was really instrumental in a lot of the dealings that brought Severstal, Paccar, GE, Toyota, big names that you all recognize,” Wallace said. “I think the first thing I heard him say is that he is going to visit every industry in Oktibbeha County. We want to retain you and help you expand. He is very committed to that. With the ability of the LINK and the organization that (LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins) already has in place, we can’t help but win.”
Deason said he was eager to meet Starkville’s business and community leaders in person. He said the cooperative approach of LINK extends beyond the Golden Triangle.
“You’re going to have to understand, we’re not living in a Starkville or Oktibbeha or Golden Triangle or U.S. economy anymore,” Deason said. “This is a global economy.”
Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory also reported on the GSDP’s various successes over the past year through OCEDA, the Starkville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Starkville Main Street Association. For instance, tourism spending increased by more than 8 percent last year, she said, and it has increased 33 percent since 2009.
“Compared to the state average, this is monumental,” Gregory said. “We’ve positioned ourselves as Mississippi’s college town. We’ve received accolades and invitations from across the Southeast to share our strategies and success.”
Gregory also said the SACC welcomed 55 new members in 2012, sponsoring 34 ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new or relocated businesses and bringing total membership above 400. She said the GSDP has accomplished much in recent years, but it still has much to do, and it will need its current and future partners to do it. As such, she announced a new marketing campaign during the banquet, aimed at solidifying the GSDP’s ties to the Starkville community. The campaign features the tagline, “I’m a Starkville Partnership member. Are you?”
“It’s basically a campaign solidifying and focusing in on our mission of community development,” Gregory said. “We’re going to be highlighting some of our existing members and some of our staff and hoping to reach the public with the focused message that in addition to our partnership with the LINK ... the partnership is still a very vital organization to the community for enhancing the quality of life.”
The GSDP also distributed annual awards to local businesses that made their mark on the city and county in 2012. Winners included:
- BancorpSouth, which received the R. Clay Simmons Exemplary Enterprise Award
- Lynn Phillips-Gaines, who received T.E. Veitch Community Service Award
- Amy Ellis McReynolds, who the GSDP named to the Education Hall of Fame
- Haley Montgomery, Melissa Dixon & Kathy Jacobs, who received the Crystal Pineapple Tourism Award
- MFJ Enterprises, which the GSDP named Oktibbeha County Industry of the Year
- Pat Lane, who the GSDP named its Ambassador of the Year
- Sammy Smith, who received the Starkville Main Street Association Award