Economic development experts offer community a recipe for success

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003


The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ &045; The first thing a community needs to be successful is strong leadership &045; after that it’s a matter of capitalizing on what you have and forming a plan to get what you don’t.

Email newsletter signup

That’s according to economic development experts who has spent years watching &045; and coaching &045; communities as they lure industry.

John Lovorn, a Tupelo consultant who helped place Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority Director Mike Ferdinand in his job, said strong leadership is key.

&uot;And Natchez-Adams County does have good leadership,&uot; he said.

What that leadership must do in any community, Lovorn said, is form an action plan and distribute responsibilities.

&uot;You need strong leadership, public and private, and that leadership’s got to have vision,&uot; Lovorn said. &uot;They’ve got to decide what they want to do and they’ve got to put together what they want to do in an action plan.&uot;

Lovorn runs The PACE Groups &045; Preparing American Companies/Communities for Excellence &045; a consulting firm that puts his 20 years of experience in economic development to work.

Among the tools many communities use to attract industry, according to Lovorn: established industrial sites, such as an industrial park; a strong existing industry program to bolster what’s already in a community; an educated workforce; good public schools; and privately-funded incentives.

Industrial sites, in particular, need to be &uot;fully developed and first rate,&uot; Lovorn said, noting that industrial parks often already have lights and other amenities.

Having such a tool for industrial recruitment is important, Lovorn said, because competition has become so fierce for the companies that might be looking to expand or relocate.

&uot;(Natchez’s) competition has fully developed sites,&uot; he said. &uot;There’s not as many projects as there were 10 years ago.&uot;

He also encourages community leaders to bolster their existing industries.

&uot;They are your best sales people,&uot; he said.

Some communities &045; Lovorn noted Hattiesburg as one &045; have a public/private partnership that runs economic development in the city.

Other communities might have a privately-funded account they can dip into when they need to help lure industry, Lovorn said.

Other economic development experts agreed that rolling out the red carpet for prospective industries won’t do any good if you don’t have a place to put them.

And that place better come complete with infrastructure &045; not necessary a finished building, but a site with good roads, water, sewer and other amenities and access to highways, they said.

An industrial park &045; along with a privately-funded incentive fund, cooperation among area agencies to recruit business, a quality workforce and a good quality of life &045; is a must for Natchez-Adams to attract industries, they said.

&uot;It needs to be fully developed,&uot; said Jimmy Heidel, Vicksburg-Warren County’s industrial development director and former head of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

&uot;You’ve got to have topographic maps and soil borings already done &045; everything an industry needs to make a decision,&uot; he said.

That is not including the compiling of other information essential for such decisions, such as demographics, wage surveys and industrial covenants. Heidel said such documents can easily reach 400 to 500 pages.

&uot;Also, good road system and rail service are always very important&uot; factors in such decisions, said Bill Sisson, executive director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at the University of Southern Mississippi.

How important is it to have such facilities and information already available when industries come to call? On average, location decisions are made by industries in 60 to 90 days, Heidel said.

Something else an area needs to successfully land an industry is an educated, disciplined and motivated workforce.

But that is something that doesn’t develop overnight, said Sisson had no easy answers.

&uot;It’s a long-term investment,&uot; Sisson said. One thing that does give an area’s upcoming workforce an edge is access to the latest technology &045; access to scientific research as well as having computers in the classroom, he said.

Cooperation by all the entities that have a hand in the economic and community development of an area is also important, Heidel said.

Take Vicksburg, for example. There, bodies such as the industrial development authority, port commission and chamber of commerce meet once a month to share their thoughts and goals.

&uot;It all boils down to what I call the three C’s: communication, coordination and cooperation,&uot; said Heidel, who serves as the director of all three agencies.

Hattiesburg has taken that concept a step further by putting all of those agencies under one roof and one name, the Area Development Partnership. Corinth has a similar setup, Heidel said.

Vicksburg’s agencies are now working compiling and raising money to fund a five-year strategic plan of additions they would like to see made to the community.

Projects in various stages of development in that area include port improvements, other transportation developments and even the relocation of the historic Pemberton House to draw more tourists into the downtown area.

But not all factors that attract industries are so concrete, Sisson said.

He noted that quality of life issues, such as the availability of recreational activities, make a difference when companies are thinking of locating their employees &045; and those employees’ families &045; to an area.

&uot;That matters because these days, a company can locate anywhere they want,&uot; Sisson said.