By STEVEN NALLEY
Golden Triangle leaders gathered Thursday night at the James M. Trotter Convention Center in Columbus to hear two presentations on regional governance opportunities which could help cities and counties in close proximity form more cohesive regional identities.
Domenico “Mimmo” Parisi, director of Mississippi State University’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center, presented his findings on the feasibility of a metropolitan planning organization in the Golden Triangle. An MPO is a federal transportation designation typically applied to dense urban areas with populations in excess of 50,000, and Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said the designation qualifies a region for additional federal transportation funding.
While the Golden Triangle has a total population comparable to the Hattiesburg metropolitan area at 128,084 residents, Parisi said, MPOs require a density of 1,000 people per square mile the region does not have. Also, no corner of the Golden Triangle has both the density and the population to qualify for an MPO designation, he said.
“Starkville is the most urbanized place in the region with approximately 31,000 of its residents living in a concentrated area with a density of 1,000 persons per square mile,” Parisi said. “While Lowndes County has the largest population with approximately 60,000 residents, it is more dispersed relative to the Columbus core area. Its concentrated area contains approximately 29,000 residents. Clay County is the smallest county with approximately 21,000 residents, and 10,000 residents live in a concentrated area in West Point.”
Parisi said Golden Triangle counties do qualify for other federal designations.
“All three counties ... meet the criteria to be micropolitan areas as defined by the U.S. Census. Lowndes County and Clay County are also linked through commuting patterns, and form a unique Combined Statistical Area, again as defined by the U.S. Census.”
Parisi said an MPO designation is not out of reach for the Golden Triangle, but it must be approached from a regional perspective, with awareness of each county’s unique strengths. For instance, Lowndes County and Clay County already share linked economies, he said, making them ideal for expanding opportunities for graduates from MSU, East Mississippi Community College and Mississippi University for Women. Meanwhile, he said, Starkville and MSU have driven population growth, with Oktibbeha County’s population growing 25 percent over the last 20 years and MSU breaking enrollment records.
Also presenting at the meeting was Taylor Adams, purchasing manager at MSU’s office of procurement and contracts. Adams said Golden Triangle cities and counties could benefit from forming a regional purchasing and procurement co-op, which would allow them to pool the volume of general commodities they already buy to obtain better prices.
“The concept of cooperative procurement has really just gained momentum nationally within the last 10 years,” Adams said. “It’s really just coming to Mississippi It’s just now becoming feasible on a regional scale.
Adams said items the Golden Triangle could save money on through cooperative procurement include furniture, vehicles, firefighting equipment, maintenance equipment and industrial supplies. He said cooperative procurement also allows governments to support more local vendors, and he used industrial supply as an example.
“There are four industrial supply vendors that are currently available through the state contract program administered by the state of Mississippi,” Adams said. “One of those vendors (Fastenal) has a brick-and-mortar location in both Columbus and Starkville, (which) gives us an opportunity to support a good local vendor but also allows us to preserve that state contract pricing.”
Wiseman said the meeting was a success, with all of the Golden Triangle’s cities and counties represented well at the meeting.
“Both of the presentations were insightful and well-received,” Wiseman said. “I believe there is interest among all who attended to continue a regular dialogue and to continue to set up programs like the one we had last night.”
Adams said he commended Starkville in particular for being open to innovative processes and committed to providing value to Starkville’s citizens. Parisi said he was grateful to Oktibbeha County Supervisor Marvell Howard for getting nSPARC involved in helping Golden Triangle cities and counties think more regionally, leading into Wiseman’s request for Parisi to investigate MPOs.