Bristow: Fiber optics can boost economy in Miss-Lou

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2005

LORMAN &045; Bringing a fiber optics network to Alcorn State University and to a business incubator program in Natchez will inspire a new economy in southwest Mississippi, ASU President Dr. Clinton Bristow said Wednesday.

Bristow spoke to a group of government officials from counties served by the university’s rural development center, telling them that digital imaging businesses will &uot;bring many people to work on many levels. From those, we’ll incubate other types of business that want to link with digital imaging. We are very excited about this, bringing a new economy to southwest Mississippi.&uot;

He envisions communities throughout one of the most rural areas of Mississippi being connected to the rest of the world on a fast, state-of-the-art network. &uot;You’ll be able to sit in Meadville, Lorman, Roxie, Bude, Fayette and do business with individuals in China, India, Africa and Japan,&uot; he said.

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Bristow’s remarks came as he introduced Nick Walters, director of the Mississippi office of

USDA Rural Development. Walters came to remind county officials of ways USDA can assist in community and economic development.

First, however, Bristow told the group that the new digital technology, when it is complete, combined with the quality of life found in southwest Mississippi, will attract people who know that locale is no longer a disadvantage in today’s world.

&uot;We have a quality of life; you can breathe the air, drink the water; ride the streets. People love the natural beauty and the rural lifestyle,&uot; he said. &uot;Marry that with technology and, boom, we have a new economy.&uot;

Both Bristow and Walters emphasized the importance of appearance, not just on the ASU campus and not just in certain neighborhoods of towns but, indeed, on all of the highways and byways of the region.

&uot;Curb appeal happens at Alcorn because we have a plan. We have zones, and we want a certain quality of life here,&uot; he said.

Walters echoed that idea, urging county officials to be statesmen and not politicians; to pass ordinances that protect their areas long term and especially to take care of natural resources.

&uot;Nobody enjoys change, but we have to talk about it,&uot; Walters said. &uot;Land use planning and zoning are controversial but we need people who will step up to the plate and take the heat. If you don’t do this, you are short-changing your people.&uot;

Supervisors, clerks and others from Claiborne, Franklin, Jefferson and Wilkinson County attended the meeting. No one from Adams County attended.

Thomas Tolliver, longtime chancery clerk of Wilkinson County, said he never misses an opportunity to attend meetings where industrial development is discussed. He attended as president of his county’s Industrial Development Authority.

Wilkinson County officials never miss a chance to look for ways to bring more people to the county, Tolliver said. Recently, with a $200,000 grant from Corrections Corporation of America, the company that operates the large prison in Wilkinson County, county officials have begun work on a recreation area that already includes a lake and will have a second lake, ball fields, cabins, an amphitheater and, he hopes, hookups for recreational vehicles.

Walters said for all of the rural parts of Mississippi, the &uot;answer for us in community and economic development is bundled up in one term &045; quality of life.&uot;

That term refers to a place that is safe, he said. It’s a place with a good justice system, good school district, opportunities to start your own businesses, access to the arts and a good use of natural resources.

When looking at whether a community gets a USDA grant, federal and state officials are most impressed by communities that have long-range plans, Walters said.

&uot;We want to be a partner with you. Alcorn is the leader for southwest Mississippi and they understand their role is far greater than turning out students,&uot; Walters said. &uot;We know that creating jobs from within ourselves is a way we can be successful.&uot;

That is the idea behind the Alcorn push for a fiber optics network, Bristow said. &uot;We want to keep the citizens who are here. But we want to bring in new.&uot;

Furthermore, with jobs to offer them, the hundreds of graduates of Alcorn each year will opt to remain in the area and add their own energies to the economy.