The federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission got a first-hand look at the economic development progress in the Golden Triangle Tuesday.
Elected and economic development officials in the region spoke to Earl Gohl in a brief meeting at Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
"Probably the most important thing you said was you all own this," Gohl said. "The communities ... where you've got ... a diverse group of people from a variety of geographic areas ... and they ... all have a piece of it, those are ones who are the easiest to work with, the easiest to help, easiest to move forward with and the ones most likely to be successful."
Gohl said: "Obviously, we're about success," adding that the organization works to increase the per capita income and competitiveness of the 420-county ARC territory.
"Everything we are working on rolls very nicely with the funding we get" from ARC, said Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman spoke of an upcoming charette which would focus on design topics in Starkville. Maynard said the charette will take place through the Mississippi Main Street organization sometime this fall.
A potential next step is to look at the various communities' processes regionally, Wiseman said.
"As a region you see how that master planning exercise is affecting all of it," he said.
Oktibbeha County District 3 Supervisor and Board President Marvell Howard brought up a proposed project to allow East Mississippi Community College to provide workforce training and continuing education in northwest Oktibbeha County, an area he described to Gohl as impoverished.
He asked ARC officials to look at ways "to help us along with that."
Local officials spent much of their time focusing on the economic development boom surrounding GTRA. Since 2004, Severstal, Paccar, Aurora Flight Sciences, American Eurocopter and Stark Aerospace have all located to property on or near GTRA.
"The projects that are out here now are regional," said Mike Hainsey, executive director of GTRA. "It's easier to do it together than compete against each other one-on-one and that's how we got this far."
He told Gohl that when he was hired on at the airport in 2003, "there was nothing but the airport, a Weyerhaeuser plant and a couple small buildings out there." A two-lane road took travelers to and from GTRA, Hainsey said.
Today, the airport is surrounded on three sides with companies and is accessible from a four-lane highway. Officials plan to develop an aerospace park to the west.
"It's just really hard for any part of the world to compete with what we've physically built here and y'all have been a big, big part of that," Joe Higgins, CEO of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link.