• 45°

Unity of community'

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
Oct. 20, 2002
Somehow, we always knew it was true. But when an outsider, make that an outside expert, says it, he makes a real impression. Or should.
It turns out that unity is a big factor in a community's ability to attract new jobs. It was mentioned in several ways the other night as Dr. David Sampson, assistant secretary of Commerce, spoke at the East Mississippi Business Development Corp.'s 6th annual meeting.
What does "unity" mean?
Among other things, as I understood Sampson's definitions, unity means:
A collective mindset to "think regionally to compete globally."
Communities that are successful in attracting major economic development in the future may well appeal across state lines, certainly across city and county lines. "East Mississippi" is a region that should be paired with "West Alabama" when talk turns to economic development.
Pursuing "clusters" of related industries, such as a major manufacturing plant attracting suppliers and secondary manufacturers. In a way, there is unity in industry, too, and like-minded companies enjoy being closely associated with one another.
Showcasing your advantages. Businesses will not come to an area unless it sees advantages in product design, production or distribution. Most businesses want to make a profit and showing them how to operate most efficiently and effectively does make a difference. This has to do with incentives, workforce training, transportation and many other variables that separate one area from another.
Collaboration. The combination of strong educational and training resources, research opportunities and that elusive thing called "leadership" is a real magnet. Max it out.
Leadership at every level, Sampson said, is one of those things that can give the Meridian area an edge in business recruitment. Indeed, the Riley Foundation, Montgomery Institute, EMBDC and other organizations are making heavy investments in leadership training through programs such as Leadership Lauderdale and the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
The idea is that leaders can be made and their leadership can make a positive difference.
So, think for a moment about how we stack up against the Sampson standards.
I believe our economic development officials are trying to work together on projects that can benefit the entire region. Eventually, we may even want to consider some sort of compact with Alabama because, again, companies care little for state borders. Give us a B in this category.
The pursuit of clusters is evident in development of a high-tech I-59 corridor that, in Mississippi, runs from Meridian to the Stennis Space Center on the Coast. It can also connect Mississippi to Alabama and Louisiana. Automotive clustering seems another good avenue. Give us a high C for actual performance and a B for potential.
Working cooperatively, federal, state and local governments have a bevy of incentives, from tax relief to employee training. Our community colleges are excellent resources, although stymied by a lack of funding. Given intense competition from other states, it may be time to re-tool Mississippi's recruitment programs. Give us a B-minus.
Ah, so it comes down to collaborative leadership. Hmmm. As far as I can tell, there is no single vision for Meridian and Lauderdale County, much less East Mississippi and West Alabama.
We need one. Many, many interests political, selfish, cultural and otherwise are still competing for attention and the general public wonders to whom it can entrust the overall responsibility. We probably deserve a D in this category with a lot of encouragement to pull up the grade, because the overall responsibility belongs to all of us.
While the $1.5 million grant delivered by Sampson is an important piece of the development of the I-20/59 Industrial Park and overall development in East Mississippi and West Alabama, it is only a piece.
Sampson said the Bush administration believes such federal investments have only a limited direct economic impact and that, ultimately, market forces not the government will drive success.
The $10.4 trillion federal budget certainly influences the economy. But public grants must also work in tandem in a comprehensive economic development program supported by the entire community.
As Sampson said, it is private business that will sustain economic growth over the course of many years, even decades.

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