Business leaders should speak up

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sometimes you have to wait until the end of the meal to get the good stuff — whether that’s the dessert or just a sweet piece of advice.

On Wednesday, at the Rotary Club of Natchez’s weekly meeting, that nugget of wisdom came near the end.

By all indications, the Rotary speaker, Rob Hosford, graduated from local boy to 50-mile expert a few years ago.

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Hosford’s talk was scheduled to be on the green initiatives and the economic stimulus package.

He touched on those topics, but it was during the question- and-answer period that Hosford connected best.

Hosford is president of pH Solutions Inc., based in Washington, D.C. Hosford’s brother is Doug Hosford, who owns High Cotton on Main Street.

D.C.-Hosford was formerly chief of staff of the Farm Service Agency at the United States Department of Agriculture and worked in the private sector in a number of roles, including representing the Texas beef and cattle industry.

The bottom line is that he’s not just a good-old boy from Natchez; he’s someone who knows a few things about the world of business and government.

In the Q&A session, someone asked Hosford what he thought about the current state of our economic development efforts.

Hosford said that as someone who has helped others relocate businesses, having one person and/or one agency is critical to making such transitions easier.

Further, he pointed to what Natchez offers best — a beautiful town and an amazing quality of life.

His message seems simple and based in common sense.

But until we figure out a plan for economic development that everyone can fully support, our community seems stuck in neutral.

At present, our economic development authority is a little hamstrung. Funding commitments have been restored from the county, but a long-term commitment doesn’t seem to exist. Several of our community’s leaders have said they would not fund the EDA in its present form.

Economic development in Natchez has struggled for years. It’s become an almost rite of passage for either the new city or county administration to yank its contributions to get some attention. That’s happened again this year.

Perhaps we should take advantage of this latest “yank” to create a system that can be supported for the next 10 or 15 years.

Maybe the problem is the structure of the EDA. If it is, let’s fix the structure.

Our community has a history of being filled with fair-weather fans of the EDA.

When times are good and no financial pressures are being applied, everyone leaves the EDA alone. Mind you, that doesn’t mean the EDA is supported, only that it’s a non-issue.

That needs to end.

Natchez and Adams County needs to get over the woes of the past and decide what it wants from an EDA and what it plans to do to fully support a combined effort. Our strength lies in working together, not in pulling in separate directions.

Hopefully, sometime soon local business leaders — bankers, realtors, developers, retailers, car dealers and the like — will publicly stand up and express their opinions on the shape our EDA should take going forward.

Experts like Hosford, who have vast business experience, say an EDA is needed. But any kind of EDA will take full local support. A 50-mile expert can tell us what we need to do, but it’s up to us to get it done and make it work.

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