EDA tries to recoup after controversy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 4, 1999

Chris Weaver has been looking for a full-time job for six weeks.

And in those six weeks, he’s been on two job interviews, leaving him with an attitude echoed often throughout the Natchez area.

&uot;The job situation doesn’t seem to be very good,&uot; Weaver said Thursday while outside the Natchez office of the Mississippi Employement Securities Commission.

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To Weaver, and the other thousands of Adams County residents who drove the 7.7 percent unemployment rate in October, there may be jobs in Adams County — but they are not the right types of jobs.

And economic development — the buzzwords associated with the tools needed to create more of those jobs — is less about the politics of hiring a director and more about the realities of just finding decent employment.

Peggy Ballard, manager of the Natchez office of the Mississippi Employment Securities Commission, said finding a job in Adams County is easier than finding a living wage.

&uot;We need full-time jobs with decent pay and benefits attached,&uot; she said.&160;&uot;We see a lot of part-time positions.&uot;

But, with unemployment on the rise in recent months, the loss of 50 manufacturing jobs in Adams County during October simply hurts. The county’s jobless rate was more than 2.5 percent higher than the state average of 5 percent.

And as those rates rise, public pressure for someone — anyone — to find more job opportunities in Adams County increases.

But where to turn for that leadership?

The Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, created in 1991 to serve as an umbrella organization for job growth and industrial development, is trying to recoup from a controversial year spent mostly without a director and without a guaranteed future.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen at first voted not to fund the EDA shortly after Director Andi Quartey resigned early in the year. But this fall aldermen pledged to fund the EDA at $50,000 a year, as soon as the board is restructured. And the board of supervisors, after removing the director’s salary from its EDA allocation, has pledged financial support as well.

&uot;Since (the EDA) hasn’t accomplished anything significantly, as far as bringing in some quality jobs, (most) people feel it’s not doing its job,&uot; said state &160;Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez.

West served on the Adams County Board of Supervisors when the EDA was created.

But he, like many other elected officials, questions its effectiveness.

The authority is governed by a 15-member board appointed by the Natchez Board of Aldermen, the Board of Supervisors and the Chamber of Commerce.

With &uot;a 15-person board it’s sometimes difficult to get things done,&uot; said Andrew Ketchings, deputy director of the EDA.

But proposed legislation would change that. The board would be reduced to five members, two appointed by the city, two by the county and one jointly appointed member. Other officials would serve as ex officio members.

City Attorney Walter Brown and County Attorney Marion Smith are in the process of discussing the legislation.

Virginia Salmon, president of the Board of Supervisors said economic development is everyone’s responsibility and she is always making contacts.

&uot;The EDA takes a posture appealing to corporate America. We can’t look at what looks good to us as a community. It’s got to bring jobs here — industries and business,&uot; Salmon said.

In the meantime, other members of the community are generating support for a regional EDA.

The regional EDA, which would cover both Concordia Parish and Adams County, has begun to seek support from local banks.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said he believes the regional approach is the best way.

&uot;I think the strength of our area is everyone working together,&uot; Copeland said.

The regional EDA is patterned after the Tupelo-based Community Development Foundation.

The CDF is mostly privately funded and recruits industries to a 22-county area known as the &uot;golden triangle.&uot;

&uot;I think the attitude is moving toward that direction,&uot; Copeland said. &uot;I just think that’s our future.&uot;

State Sen. Bob M. Dearing (D-Natchez) agrees there is a lot to be learned from the Tupelo Starkville and Columbus area and the CDF. He wishes McComb, Brookhaven and Natchez could do the same.

&uot;I’ve been trying to get a ‘golden’&160;triangle in southwest Mississippi- so to speak,&uot; Dearing said.