MDA advises on economic development alliance

From Staff Reports

ACKERMAN — With a proposed regional economic development partnership still undecided, the Choctaw County Economic Development District and Foundation looked to Kathy Gelston for guidance.

Supervisors in Webster, Choctaw and Montgomery counties voted last fall to contract with Stone-Adams Financial Partners of Jackson to set up a regional economic development organization within 90 days.

The boards voted to join the “Regional Economic Partnership of Mississippi” to consolidate economic development activities and resources in the counties. Stone-Adams announced Oct. 1 that efforts to coordinate the partnership were under way.

Each county was to pay SAFP a fee of $3,300 a month in October- December. Webster County’s current budget includes a $40,000 appropriation for economic development purposes.

The CCEDD board of trustees, in a joint meeting with the Choctaw County EDF, voted Dec. 17 to rescind a previous motion allowing the district to pay the required $40,000 to join the partnership. The district had voted Aug. 9 to fund the partnership at the request of Choctaw County

Alliance Aspects In a joint meeting of the CCEDD and Foundation on Jan. 7, Gelston, the deputy director and chief financial officer for the Mississippi Development Authority, described some aspects of an economic development alliance that the boards should consider.

Gelston suggested in the planning process of beginning an alliance, to think about what each county has to offer and to “make sure you partner with a county that has the same labor pool.”

She used Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties as an example and the alliance they are forming with The Link.

She said counties can form an alliance in different ways by sharing administrative costs only for an economic developer, the amount of money each county contributes and how (millage vs. exact dollar).

“I can’t tell you that one way is right,” said Gelston.

“If you decide to go with an alliance, decide what you want to put in and get out of it before you sign on the dotted line,” she suggested.

In answering a question from a board member, Gelston said there are no rural economic development partnerships like the proposed one for Choctaw County. She and members present then began discussing other alliances in the state and how they differ from the one proposed for Choctaw County.

Gelston also said to the economic development boards, that it is important to know what you want in an economic developer and have ways to check on that person.

Contract Status After the presentation, the Choctaw County Economic Development District and Foundation board discussed whether or not a decision had to be made that night about donating the money to the county to join the proposed partnership. Choctaw County District 5 Supervisor Eric Chambers and Ron Bennett, CCEDD president, also discussed whether or not a contract for the partnership was being still being discussed.

No action was taken during the meeting on the proposed economic development partnership. The Webster County supervisors have taken no official action regarding the REPMS since they voted Sept. 28 to contract with Stone-Adams.

The Winona Times reported Jan. 3 that the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors was working with leaders of Choctaw, Webster and Carroll counties to finalize details in the creation of a four-county economic development organization.

Additionally, CCEDD trustee Ben Tharp said Dec. 17 that Stone-Adams and founder Nick Walters had been assisting Choctaw, Webster, Montgomery and Carroll counties in developing an interlocal agreement and organizing the partnership.

Carroll County was not mentioned in the professional services agreement that Webster County supervisors entered into with SAFP in September. The agreement stated that Webster County was contracting with Stone-Adams to create a regional economic development organization in conjunction with Choctaw and Montgomery counties only.

The Winona Times article added that, according to Montgomery County Supervisor Ron Wood, a meeting had been scheduled to discuss advertising to hire someone to run the partnership for the counties.

This article includes reporting by Amanda McBride of The Choctaw Plaindealer and Russell Hood of the Progress-Times.