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New beginnings: Leaders connecting with community

By Staff
This was the week for announcing job changes within our community. On Tuesday, Lewis Sutton Jr. was announced as United Way executive director. On Wednesday, Mac Barnes was presented as principal and football coach for Lamar School. And on Thursday, the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation announced Wade Jones will serve as president.
Sutton gets to come home. Barnes gets to stay home. And Jones gets to affirm his choice of home. I'm among those pleased for these men and their families, pleased for the organizations and programs they will lead and pleased for our community.
In the case of Lewis Sutton Jr. the road to the United Way of Lauderdale County runs from Detroit, Mich., to home. A 1981 graduate of Meridian High School and Alcorn University, Sutton is currently district director of the Detroit Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
I am especially taken with the idea that one of our oldest son's high school classmates has an opportunity to bring what he has learned home to our community. We have excelled in exporting locally nurtured talent. Thus, it is a most welcome event to see that process reversed.
Is this a caring community? The United Way of Lauderdale County provides a very tangible answer to that question. A measure of our compassion, if you will.
Sutton will find a good news-bad news situation with the United Way. The good news is the strength of top volunteer leadership, the existing staff, and the relationships with member agencies. And this year, we achieved our goal. The not so good news is the huge backlog of unmet needs within member agencies.
Is the United Way of Lauderdale County positioned to achieve a higher level of community engagement and philanthropy? Stay tuned.
For Mac Barnes, the path to his new responsibilities runs north from Ray Stadium to Cobb Field. This is a good road for both Mac and Lamar School. I'm not a football guy. I wear a Parents for Public Schools sweatshirt. And I'm very excited for my friend.
Our system of public education and our system of public employee retirement together create the unintended result of driving folks toward careers outside the public sector.
Quite simply, it made great economic sense for Mac to change from public school employment to private school employment. Draw state retirement. Earn a private sector paycheck.
The guy is a coach. A mentor. A teacher. Sure, he can "administer." But most of all Mac can lead.
Some years ago, Mac and I bonded during a series of conversations about the complementary character of "athletics and academics." He and I share the view that acquiring knowledge and developing character are mutually supportive.
And both of us are driven to win.
It is going to be fun to watch Mac rebuild the Raider football fortunes. More than that, the kids whose lives he will touch on and off the playing field will benefit from his instruction. Both competitive and compassionate, Mac is grounded. I look for his teams to win. In games and beyond the field.
So I'm pleased Mac can retire from one responsibility and enter another and remain engaged in the life of our community. Doing what he does best, coaching and mentoring kids. Tally this one in the win column, Coach Barnes!
In the third of the job change announcements, Mississippi Power Company executive Wade Jones was introduced as EMBDC president. Wade brings a great mix of experiences and skills to the leadership of this organization. He has worked with local and regional community/economic development agencies. He brings strong private sector work experience. And he has outstanding networking skills.
In spite of all the banter about "more and better jobs" the process of economic development is exactly that  a long term process. It is a team sport played over time and not an individual event.
Wade Jones is a team player with leadership skills. You can expect him to place emphasis on "working together." And as an ex-utility guy, I hope will think about "capacity" as well as "marketing" issues.
Given our community's history of divisiveness, our propensity to fight rather than collaborate, our lack of growth and our magnificent denial mechanisms, Wade will have plenty of challenges. Unless I miss my guess, he will bring an open and inclusive leadership style to the EMBDC.
He will not bring any quick fixes. But he does inherit a number of promising projects. I believe he is uniquely suited to encourage and support these projects. Wade Jones has before him the opportunity to harvest as well as plant seeds. And in the same season.
I believe he can become an outstanding community development entrepreneur. Grounded in the nuts and bolts of economic development as well as corporate management, he brings experiences which will allow him to be creative.
To be a trail-blazer.
Wade's willingness to walk away from a secure career with the MPC to the rough and tumble world of community development speaks volumes to me. He is ready to lead and has a desire to make a difference in this place he and his family are choosing to live.
For Wade Jones, Mac Barnes and Lewis Sutton Jr., work life and personal community connections seem to be converging. These leaders are professionally as well as personally committed to Meridian and Lauderdale County.
Isn't that a good place to begin?
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at wscaggs@themeridianstar.com.

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