Leaders: EDA shouldn’t be political

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 4, 1999

Community leaders say the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority needs professional leadership based on economic goals, not political pressure points.

&uot;The EDA&160;has been too political,&uot; said Anne Stowers, CEO of the Natchez Adams County Chamber of Commerce. &uot;The goal of bringing in new business got lost in the shuffle.&uot;

The very organization and structure of the EDA has been political, Stowers said. In looking toward the future of the EDA, Stowers said the community must be practical and goal-oriented.

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&uot;A person is qualified or not,&uot; she said. &uot;Natchez is too small to impose political requirements on the EDA.&uot;

In seeking a leader for the EDA, the community needs someone qualified in economic development, she said.

&uot;The charter for the EDA says we must have a director and a minority director, and we can’t afford that,&uot; she said.

It is this type of controversy that has led some officials to question the EDA’s organization.

&uot;There has been so much political dissent (over) whether they think its worth it or not worth it,&uot; said State Rep. Philip West, D-Natchez.

If only one organization, preferably the board of supervisors, oversaw the EDA it might be more effective and efficient, West said.

Virginia Salmon, president of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, said the EDA must look at business in its broadest possible context — taking every opportunity to expand and diversify Adams County’s industrial base.

In the earlier life of the EDA, Salmon said, it was the chase for the smoke stacks that &uot;failed us.&uot;

&uot;We need to look at other opportunities that turn money over in the community. We need to be more open to different opportunities.&uot;

The current deputy director of the EDA, Andrew Ketchings, agrees that a diverse industrial base will be the safest course for Adams County’s future.

Perhaps the EDA has spent too much energy in the past chasing large industries, Ketchings said.

&uot;Maybe we should have been looking toward more of the 50 to 100 employee range companies,&uot; he said.

&uot;Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to have some big industry in here, but when something happens with one of the those big employers, it’s a big impact on the local economy.&uot;

Ketchings said the EDA has not kept statistical data on their efforts to recruit large industry, but attempt to maintain good relationships with all recruiting targets.

&uot;We don’t wait around expecting to hear from them next week, but neither do we burn any bridges,&uot; he said.

Although he’s never been directly involved in the EDA, Britton & Koontz First National Bank President and CEO Page Ogden has a vested interest in the economic development of Natchez and Adams County.

This fall, B&K Bank and the EDA co-sponsored a presentation featuring economics researcher Bill Fruth in which he outlined ideas for Adams County’s economic growth.

&uot;He presented some good economic development concepts,&uot; Ogden said.

&uot;One point he made was that we need to have improved and approved industrial land for industrial prospects.&uot;

Clear leadership is needed in such a dynamic field as industrial development, Ogden said.

The EDA can monitor, mediate and communicate on behalf of business, he said.

&uot;This requires strong leadership and planning. We haven’t had that for a long time.&uot;

If a business has to go to local government bodies and plead their own case for such things as land and tax exemptions, then these inconveniences will build up over time, he said.

&uot;When a decision must be made on where to expand and where to contract business, these inconveniences will be remembered,&uot; Ogden said.

Adams County Supervisors apparently took heed to Fruth’s words.

Supervisors voted Nov. 29 to have a portion of the Belwood property appraised for further development.

Approximately 40 acres are currently under lease and the remaining 35 are being appraised for future industrial development, Salmon said.

&uot;We can’t solve all our problems at once,&uot; said Stephanie Hutchins, president of the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce. &uot;But we can start by studying our next move.&uot;

Hutchins said the joint B&K and EDA seminar on economic development was definitely a step in the right direction.

&uot;I think we’ve brought together a great group of individuals who are dedicated to moving our community forward,&uot; Hutchins said. &uot;They will be the nucleus of what we will do to move forward.&uot;