Business leaders talk incentives

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; In a two-hour, informal meeting at city hall, Natchez business leaders hashed out some ideas on the organization and uses of private funding for economic development.

In the end, the logical question was: What’s next?

The group gathered agreed to come up with brief outlines of two different types of funds: a private incentive fund to be used as grants for incoming industries and a venture capital company that could be leveraged with matching funds from the Small Business Administration.

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What those in the room &045; accountants, business owners, lawyers, as well as chamber of commerce and EDA representatives &045; agreed upon was that private funding would help aid efforts to recruit jobs to Natchez and Adams County.

&uot;It could be a good thing for this community,&uot; said Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith, who organized the meeting. &uot;Definitely, something is needed.&uot;

Smith had already been working with some local businesses on the idea of an incentive plan. Meanwhile, the chamber and EDA had been talking about raising money.

&uot;It needs to be a concerted effort to avoid any duplication,&uot; Smith said.

The informal group spent almost two hours discussing ideas for collecting, administering and disbursing the money.

In several communities around Mississippi, economic development agencies &045; often a public-private partnership &045; have raised funds through capital campaigns. That money is then used for a wide range of economic development opportunities, from marketing to direct incentives for incoming industry.

Those gathered in the city hall conference room Tuesday agreed a private group needs to administer the private funds.

The Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority is currently funded with public money from the city and county.

EDA Chairman Woody Allen said his agency does not want to administer the funds.

But he noted that in many cases, the EDA could use the incentives offered by a private fund to lure industry.

&uot;This is just another tool we’re going to have in our arsenal,&uot; he said.

The EDA has 40 active prospects interested in locating in Natchez &045; but all of them want something in return, Allen said.

&uot;You’ve got to take every project and work it to everybody’s needs,&uot; Allen said.

One option, said chamber of commerce board chairman Fred Middleton, is to have the newly formed Community Alliance &045; made up of stakeholders throughout the community &045; administer the money through a subcommittee.

That finance group could be made up of some of the largest contributors to the fund, he said.

&uot;That oversight of people putting in the money is the safest oversight of all,&uot; Middleton said.

In any case, accountant Billy Gillon said businesses need to feel comfortable about who is administering the funds.

&uot;People that want to contribute want to do it in a stable operation,&uot; he said. &uot;When you go into this first fund-raiser, make sure you have that stability.&uot;

Meanwhile, Dr. Randy Tillman suggested forming a small business incentive company that could raise money, use matching funds from the Small Business Administration and then provide loans to industries.

SBICs, according to the Small Business Administration, are

privately owned and managed investment firms that use their own capital and funds borrowed at through the federal government to provide venture capital to small independent businesses, both new and already established.

By raising a small amount of money locally, Tillman said, &uot;you’ll be able to leverage that money into a serious fund.&uot;

The group also agreed that involving communities outside Adams County &045; including Franklin County, Concordia Parish and Wilkinson County &045; is necessary to make the most of development.