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We all need to be team players, even mayor

Nearly four years ago, our community leaders’ divisive egos just about got the best of us.

Despite having the power to appoint members to the city-county economic development authority, city and county leaders in 2009 squabbled and disagreed on nearly everything regarding the former EDA.

Some thought it functioned just fine.

Others thought it was the most dysfunctional group on the planet.

Some believed the EDA has been reasonably successful while others thought it had been all talk and no jobs.

But the kicker of the whole thing was that each side’s gripes were rarely genuinely expressed to the other. This dysfunctional relationship continued for years and years.

Rather than sitting down together, talking and listening — a novel concept, particularly for politicians — each side stayed on their own turf.

Occasionally a verbal barb was thrown at the other. Almost each year, one side would threaten to pull its funding, which would cripple the agency.

Eventually, someone would talk a little sense into the current problem-maker and the festering relationship would limp along.

The cycle continued, almost annually, until finally the relationship cracked.

For a while, it appeared as if Natchez-Adams County simply wouldn’t have a professional, focused economic development effort.

Cooler, non-political heads intervened, fortunately. Eventually, after much work on the part of a group of consultants, they reported the good news and the bad news.

The good news was that everyone wanted much of the same things — additional jobs, a stronger local economy and a plan to improve existing businesses.

The bad news was that the biggest impediment to achieving what we all sought was, well, us.

We were poorly communicating with one another. We’d politicized something that shouldn’t be political.

Finally our egos and the desire to “get credit” for any progress often got in the way of simply getting things done.

A prime example of this was when the county was courting one private prison operator while another was knocking at the EDA’s door.

In short, no one was working from the same playbook; we were far from a team.

The solution was scrapping the existing EDA and involving the private business sector into a new EDA.

Natchez Inc. and its key, funding source, Natchez Now, were formed.

The success of Natchez Inc. is apparent. Hundreds of millions in investment and hundreds of jobs have been committed since its inception.

But last week, as Natchez Mayor Butch Brown casually mentioned he would soon make an economic development announcement, was a flashback to days gone by.

Quite simply, Natchez-Adams County cannot afford to have people pulling in different directions.

To avoid the economic development mistakes of the past, we must all be on the same page and funnel any and all economic projects to Natchez Inc.

That includes the mayor.

He’s clearly doing much to improve Natchez and his efforts are appreciated.

But working independently on economic development projects simply undermines the team that was carefully formed to keep everyone working together.

This is not the EDA of 1993, and this is not how our city-county-private sector should operated. We must be a team if we’re going to succeed.

 

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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