Candidates get specific on job issue

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; All candidates have said they will make economic development one of their top priorities.

But what, specifically, is each candidate’s plan to boost the local economy?

In recent interviews, the three mayoral candidates &045; businessman Richard Branyan, Alderwoman Sue Stedman and state Rep. Phillip West &045; gave their thoughts on economic development.

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Richard Branyan

Branyan said that, as mayor, he would exhibit a positive attitude that, he said, goes a long way toward making Natchez business-friendly.

That could help land industrial prospects the Economic Development Authority already has on the line, he said, such as Venco.

In addition, Branyan said he would help retain existing businesses by visiting businesses regularly to see how the city can help them.

Most of Branyan’s campaign platform is devoted to boosting tourism &045; by doing things as simple as:

4Creating more signage to direct tourists to attractions.

4Adding to current tourism marketing efforts by creating new rack cards and cross-promoting with special events throughout the region, such as the Dresden exhibit in Jackson.

4Developing more family-friendly attractions.

4Eliminating the tour bus tax.

Sue Stedman

Stedman said one of her priorities as mayor would be to invite all agencies involved in economic development to &uot;to the table to discuss how we want to go about as a team creating new job opportunities.&uot;

Those agencies range from local governments, the EDA, the port and the airport to the chamber, the Business and Civic League and even the Downtown Development Association, she said.

Stedman said she agrees all those agencies need to be alert to potential business prospects. But once an agency gets the contact information, it needs to hand the data over to the EDA so it can close the deal.

&uot;We have, in my opinion, a situation where you have too many entities trying to run the ball,&uot; Stedman said.

In turn the mayor’s office, which by default gets many business leads, must be willing to hand over those leads to the EDA and work with all involved agencies, she said.

Would Stedman champion the idea of putting all development agencies under one roof? Not until all agencies can come to the table to discuss their efforts jointly.

&uot;I’m not so much concerned about the structure of our economic development effort as I am its ability to work as a team and to be effective in recruiting industries,&uot; Stedman said.

Stedman said she would go to Jackson and Washington to secure help for economic development &045; but only when help was needed for something specific.

Going to speak to state officials and the area’s federal delegation on a frequent basis just to say &uot;hi&uot; isn’t an effective use of tax dollars for travel and doesn’t yield maximum results. It can also annoy officials who are, as she said, &uot;busy people.&uot;

A better way to build relationships is to take federal dollars the area is given and use them in way that accomplishes the biggest bang for the federal buck, she said.

&uot;That’s one reason we (in city government) have been so successful in getting federal money Š they were proud of the results they got,&uot; she said.

Finally, Stedman said she would like to focus economic development efforts on getting businesses inside the city limits to shore up Natchez’s tax base.

Call centers, technology-based industries and other businesses should be recruited to fill up empty real estate such as vacant shopping centers, she said.

Phillip West

West said he was updated regularly, prior to qualifying to run for mayor, of the industrial prospects and contacts with which the EDA was working.

His first priority as mayor would be to learn the status of economic development efforts. Those would include development of the Foster Mound and Belwood industrial properties and the acquisition of the International Paper mill site.

He also said he would favor conducting an overall assessment of the area’s economic situation and infrastructure.

Once he’s apprised of both state and local efforts, West said he will contact anyone he knows in business to see if they or someone they know would be interested in coming to Natchez.

He said that as mayor he would work to &uot;sell&uot; to such people the complete package of what Natchez has to offer &045; a place to locate business, a place to retire or a place to visit or to host a convention.

And West said he believes Natchez has many positives it can sell &045; including the fact that its people seem genuinely ready to work together to move the community forward.

West said his efforts won’t duplicate the EDA’s work, since he would only be contacting people he knew personally, including Natchez natives who have moved away.

West would also meet with representatives of agencies involved in economic development to make sure they are communicating about their efforts and the direction in which they want to go.

Would West consider putting development agencies under one roof? If the people wanted it that way, he said &045; but he added &uot;it’s more important that we’re on the same page&uot; regardless of how the effort is structured.

West said such an &uot;umbrella concept&uot; of economic development was mentioned 15 or 20 years ago but never got off the ground due to turf battles. &uot;If I looked into something like that and saw you had the same kind of mindset, Š I don’t want to take away from what the energy should be used for, and that is to acquire jobs,&uot; West said.