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franklin county times

Pickering calls for unity, urgency to spur economic development

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
june 14, 2004
U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., said he is concerned that local city, county and private leadership is not "on the same page."
Pickering told The Meridian Star editorial board that cooperation and communication are vital for successful economic development. He also expressed his concerns publicly at a Lauderdale County Council of Governments meeting.
Pickering said plans and priorities have to be established at the local and regional level and he wants to see a common vision for the region, including east central Mississippi and west Alabama.
The Meridian Star: Explain your concern that there is a lack of unity among local city, county and private sector leadership.
Pickering: Since I've served in Congress, Meridian has made tremendous progress. For the most part it has had good unity.
We've seen at the military base great cooperation and coordination. We've modernized the base, we've brought in a whole new fleet and new simulators so we are very well-positioned as we go into base closing.
We have complete funding for the restoration of the Opera House for the Riley Education and Performing Arts Center. I see that as one of the jewels, not only of Mississippi, but of the entire Southeast region.
Winning the arts and entertainment center designation gives us an opportunity to bring infrastructure between Meridian and Philadelphia for tourism. Right now Meridian has about 1.5 million people who come from Atlanta, through Alabama, going to Philadelphia and Choctaw.
If we have the Opera House and the arts and entertainment center Meridian can become a major component of tourism, entertainment and recreation for east Mississippi.
It's historic to have two states enter into an agreement to promote a site. Because Meridian is the mid-point between central Alabama and central Mississippi, you have a new automotive corridor where we are positioned to see growth and benefit come from the development of the Kewanee site and the industrial park.
The retail growth for east Mississippi out of Meridian over the past five years with the coming of the new mall these are all signs of progress. They all indicate the promise and the potential of this region, but we are at one of those critical junctures.
We've put everything in place. We have the great location, we have the tremendous infrastructure from a transportation and a distribution perspective with rail, interstate and an airport.
But we now have to deliver and we need to make sure at this point that city, county and private sector leaders, the state leadership with Gov. Haley Barbour and the new administration, Sen. (Trent) Lott and Sen. (Thad) Cochran and the Congressional delegation, are all on the same page that we are working together, that we are coordinating, that we each have assignments and responsibilities and that we each take responsibility for the resources, whether it's going to be a state investment, a federal investment or private and local.
The Star: What do you see as your role in that effort?
Pickering: To the degree that my office can facilitate the communication and coordination, the planning process to say: these are the opportunities we have in the automotive industry; these are the opportunities for an expansion of defense-related jobs; these are our opportunities in Homeland Security to bring more missions to Meridian and east Mississippi; these are our opportunities from an infrastructure perspective; these are our opportunities to create an entertainment and recreational corridor from east Mississippi and west Alabama up to Choctaw and Philadelphia.
The four-laning of Highway 19, to the degree that we could accelerate and expedite that, would make this entire region more attractive to bring people to stop and shop in Meridian and the surrounding communities to go to the performing arts center, to go to the arts and entertainment center, to play golf or go to the water park in Choctaw.
We have an opportunity to see an explosion of destination-based tourism.
The Star: The interchange for the Interstate 20/59 Industrial Park has been about four years in the making. You and the congressional delegation were instrumental in securing funding from the federal level. Are you concerned about delays in choosing a site, an engineering firm and other questions that have come up, and can that money disappear if it's not used within a certain number of years?
Pickering: Am I concerned? Yes. Can it be corrected? Yes. We will not lose the funding.
Realizing our industrial parks are at capacity today, if we are going to grow, we have to have this infrastructure. Because of the location, we feel like if we have it in place we can recruit new industries. To have any delay after having the resources dedicated to it is something we need to learn from and correct in the future.
It's the same thing with Kewanee. We have money that has been dedicated to the development of a major manufacturing automotive site. We have an historic agreement with Alabama to promote the site and to put incentives together if another automotive manufacturer comes.
But we need to have a sense of urgency to have a plan in place for Kewanee that will convince anyone who is looking that we have all the competitive advantages and to demonstrate that we can deliver without delays.

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