Where are we going? Look first at where we are

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 25, 2000

In a Chamber-led effort, community and business leaders today cinched the deal that will make a 700-employee software development and production firm the fourth business to locate in the Larry&160;L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown industrial park.

&uot;Selling Natchez was easy,&uot; said Chamber board president Andrew Calvitt.&160;&uot;Two keys were the supervisors’ and aldermen’s unanimously approved tax incentive package and Alcorn and Co-Lin’s specifically tailored workforce training program, both of which we were able to outline during the recruiting visits we made with other local economic development officials.&uot;

This fictionalized news report was the result of an exercise conducted by members of the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors during a Monday afternoon retreat.

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Charged by facilitator Phil Hardwick to write a headline and beginning of a news story about the chamber that might appear in The Democrat five years from now, the directors tackled topics as varied as community unification and economic development.

Admittedly a bit tongue-in-cheek, the &uot;Unity lands a high-tech industry&uot; account was written to demonstrate what could happen if leaders throughout the private and government sectors in our community could truly unify their efforts.

Aside from a few good-hearted chuckles, the exercise offers a chance to look ahead — as a chamber and more important, as a community — to envision where we could be in five years. Of course, determining where we could be depends in large part on determining just where we are.

And that, perhaps, might be the more interesting question.

During his presentation Hardwick, the vice president of community and economic development for Mississippi Valley Gas, offered a set of criteria for evaluating just where our community is right now.

Hardwick dubbed his criteria the &uot;Seven Habits of Effective Communities,&uot; and they include:

— Passionate leadership. Note here that leadership is different than management. As Hardwick explained, managers can get people from point A to point B. Leaders are the ones who say where point B is.

— A written mission statement or plan. After all, if you don’t spell out your purpose, how can people embrace it?

— Community spirit. This is easily measured in volunteerism and community pride — at the most basic levels.

— Having the basics covered — from infrastructure to public safety.

— Business involvement. A healthy and active business environment fosters positive economic growth.

— Active marketing. Perhaps the one category in which Natchez truly excels at identifying and utilizing its uniqueness.

— And how well outsiders are welcomed. Not just surface hospitality, here, the issue is how well outsiders are integrated into the &uot;group&uot; or the community. Hardwick cited an interesting statistic here: According to the 1990 Census, 80 percent of Mississippians were born in this state. While that creates an easy-to-utilize &uot;where-are-you-from&uot; and &uot;do-you-know&uot; network in which to connect with each other, it also creates an almost insurmountable wall that isolates people who aren’t native to that network.

With that yardstick in hand, evaluating just where we are is a bit daunting. What we see, often, is the long, hard road ahead … the struggle to build unity and a shared vision.

What we’ll need is the passionate leadership, the community spirit and, yes, the business involvement to drive that progress and change.

Stacy Graning is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3539 or stacy.graning@natchezdemocrat.com