Don’t listen to the economic naysayers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 6, 2008

In most fields, at the end of the day seeing what you’ve accomplished is easy.

You’ve built 1,000 widgets. You’ve handled 25 sales. You’ve repaired 10 broken widgets.

Whatever the case is, for most of us, we live in a fairly tangible world.

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Things are built, things are sold and things are fixed.

For those of us who work like this, wrapping our heads around the work of those who don’t is difficult.

Imagine what it’s like for people whose work takes weeks, months and years to come together— people like economic developers.

That must be the equivalent of being a professional watcher of extremely slow-drying paint.

Rarely do economic projects happen quickly.

In fact, more often than not, developers work hard on a project only to have it vanish weeks, months or even years later, often through no fault on their part. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. You’re competing against the world — literally.

Think about it. Most would-be entrepreneurs or business developers could go anywhere. Outsourcing manufacturing is fairly commonplace, even for “little guys” in the business world.

But to complicate economic developers’ lives even further is the constant naysayers who question everything they do.

You’ve met these people before — heck, you may have voted for a few of them.

These folks are the doubting Thomases of our lives.

Nothing is going to work here, they say. These people lack vision because they live in a negative world. They’ll tell you why something cannot work rather than look for ways to make it work.

These folks tend to doubt almost any economic development prospect as “skeptical.”

A prime local example of this is the long-time work to bring Rentech Inc.’s proposed coal-to-liquids fuel plant to Adams County.

The Rentech project is an easy one to doubt. The company is, essentially, a technology company looking for investors to make their plans fly. Rentech believes they’ve improved a fairly old technology for liquefying coal.

But Rentech’s plans for Natchez would be their first such plant.

It’s easy for an arm-chair business wiz to go online, look at the publicly traded company’s balance sheet and determine that it’s “impossible” for them to develop a $1 billion — or more — plant in Adams County.

Doing that would be a mistake. Is Rentech still a long shot? Perhaps, but economic development is filled with long shots. Every single automobile manufacturer that has relocated to the South in the last several years started out as a long shot.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many communities listened to the naysayers who said, “They’re not going to bring a car plant here?”

Rather than live in the world of doubt and speculation. Living in the factual world is much better.

Aside from some legal fees and travel expenses, Natchez and Adams County have invested very little — in the grand scheme of things — in dancing with Rentech.

And, despite some delays in closing a fairly complicated land deal, the company has done exactly what they said. At the moment, the county has $3 million in the bank — that’s $3 million more than the county had prior to Rentech’s interest in Adams County.

Rentech seems to be doing exactly what it promised. Fortunately for the taxpayers of Adams County, a couple of key economic development leaders have believed in the project since the beginning and have put up with lots of doubting naysayers for years.

Without their determination, the money wouldn’t be in the bank. Thanks for swimming against the stream of public sentiment.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or