Jobs major focus of forum for city mayor candidates

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 16, 2004

Editor’s note: Alderman and city judge candidates’ comments at Thursday’s NAACP forum will be included in Saturday’s edition.

NATCHEZ &045; You could say that mayoral candidates speaking at an NAACP forum Thursday night at the Steelworkers’ Union Hall focused on three main issues: jobs, jobs and jobs.

F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith noted that when he took office four years ago, the Economic Development Authority had a nonfunctioning board and no full-time director. Within two months, supervisors and aldermen had agreed on a structure for the EDA board.

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With a professional director and dedicated EDA board in place, the EDA is now talking to 18 to 20 prospects weekly, including four to six ones &uot;that I would say are a shoo-in&uot; to come to Natchez, Smith said.

Danny Barber said he would travel to Washington, D.C., monthly to lobby the area’s delegation for help in recruiting new industries. &uot;If you lobby them monthly, they’ll see you’re committed to your community,&uot; Barber said.

Richard Branyan said he would work to improve signage to direct tourists to local attractions and would cut the city’s budget in other areas to devote more money to tourism marketing efforts. That, in turn, will bring more tourist dollars into local businesses. &uot;A rapid decline in visitors Š has led to businesses closing,&uot; Branyan said.

Fred Middleton said he has a vision for economic development &045; putting the EDA, the chamber and the Port Commission under one roof with one director. That, he said, would allow those organizations to speak with a united voice when it comes to industrial recruitment.

Mike Thompson said that since Nissan’s Canton plant must increase production 50 percent in the next two years, Natchez must go after second- and third-tier businesses related to Nissan.

While state Rep. Philip West was returning from the legislative session in Jackson when the other candidates spoke, campaign manager Katie Johnson Moore said West also has a plan for economic development.

&uot;He has a vision for we the people of Natchez and Adams County, (one of) good-paying jobs,&uot; Moore said.