Do economic development efforts fit the same mold?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 1, 2009

NATCHEZ — No two economic development agencies are exactly alike.

But one simple rule is necessary for success, former Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Leland Speed said.

“Whoever the executive is, he must have one master,” Speed said. “Normally that would consist of a board appointed by the various funding entities. It won’t work if you have more than one master. We learn that from the Bible.”

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Speed said the majority of economic development agencies in Mississippi counties are funded jointly by the city and the county. And that model works, he said.

“Everybody needs to have some skin the game,” he said. “They need to pay for it.”

But once the basic rules are in place, economic development can be handled in a variety of ways, Mississippi Economic Development Council Executive Director Carol Hardwick said.

“It really varies, some are heavily county funded, some get city funds, others are public/private partnerships,” she said.

Members of both the Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez Board of Aldermen have said they feel the local Economic Development Authority needs to be restructured, but some county leaders have said it should go away altogether.

The county cut funding to the EDA in January, only to return it after the attorney general’s office said cutting it mid-year might be illegal.

The local EDA was set up by special legislation, and changes to its structure would require legislative action. Regardless of what direction Adams County decides to take, area leaders must get on the same page, Speed said.

“Adams County has been a bridesmaid so many times on so many deals,” he said. “It really gets kind of frustrating. We’ve come up to the brink and not been able to pull it over.

“I can’t sit here and say that if everyone was working together it would have happened, but it certainly helps.”

Other communities fund economic development in the following ways:

Oxford-Lafayette County,

population: 42,716

The Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Foundation share a building, a president and some staff, but the commonality ends there, President and CEO Max Hipp said.

Each group has its own board of directors and its own budget.

The Economic Development Foundation Board has 17 members. The board includes city appointees, county appointees, one university appointee and members of the business community. Typically a representative from the city and county governing boards attend EDF meetings.

The foundation is funded with $55,000 from the city, $125,000 from the county and private dollars from membership fees, but Hipp said ideally his group wouldn’t need the private dollars.

“If you can have the Economic Development Foundation adequately funded and not have to chase memberships all the time, it would be best,” he said.

The chamber is funded entirely through private monies.

The two boards don’t regularly meet together. The Economic Development Foundation gives an annual report to the city and the county.

The two organizations have operated as they are now for approximately 20 years.

Hancock County, population: 39,687

The Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission is a county agency that operates the Economic Development Authority, Port Authority and Airport Authority. It also operates the Port Bienville Industrial Park, Port Bienville Railroad and Stennis International Airport/Airpark.

It was established by legislation in 1964.

Nearly all the operating monies come from fees and charges at the port, industrial park, railroad and airport, Economic Development Director Mike Turner said.

A seven-member commission governs Turner’s work. Five of the commission members are appointed by the board of supervisors, and each of the two cities in the county appoints one member.

The commission was created with the industrial park in mind.

“That was the vision,” Turner said. “People got together and said, ‘Let’s put together an industrial park.’

“Virtually all manufacturing space (in the county) is within the industrial park we control.”

The commission’s biggest ongoing recruitment project is a pipe manufacturing company that has guaranteed 305 jobs.

Hancock County has one county-wide chamber of commerce that is not affiliated in any way with the port and harbor commission.

Columbus-Lowndes County, population: 59,614

The Columbus Lowndes Development Link is the area’s chamber of commerce and economic development arm.

It is governed by a 40-member board of top area CEOs. Board members must pay membership dues.

The Link’s CEO Joe Higgins focuses on chamber duties and economic development duties. A vice president of the chamber division and a vice president of economic development focus on specific needs.

Higgins described the Link’s setup as a “corporate” one, meaning only the major decision makers from local businesses and boards are on the Link board.

The president of the board of supervisors and the mayor also sit on the board.

In addition, the chamber membership selects six board members from the business community.

The power that comes with such a wide-reaching board is important, Higgins said.

“When I say ‘The Link says we want this,’ it’s every major institution in Lowndes County,” he said.

The big board meets monthly, but an executive committee of seven meets with Higgins weekly.

Public and private monies, almost exactly 50-50, fund the Link.

The county gives $200,000; the city gives $100,000. The industrial authority and the convention and visitors bureau also contribute public dollars.

Private sector contributions round out the rest of a $1.5 million annual budget.

The office has seven employees.

Pike County, population: 39,798

The Pike County Chamber Of Commerce And Economic Development Foundation Inc. in McComb share a building and a staff, but are governed by two different boards.

“They are separate organizations that are kind of married,” Executive Director Britt Herrin said.

Membership dues fund the chamber.

The economic development district is funded by a mil and a quarter tax levied by the county. The tax generates approximately $180,000 annually.

The economic development board has 16 members, appointed by the City of McComb, other towns in the county and Pike County.

The chamber board and the economic board meet monthly, but rarely together.

The economic development district manages two county-owned industrial parks. One is full.

The largest current employer is Sanderson Farms, which provides more than 2,000 jobs.

Tupelo-Lee County Economic Development Foundation; population: 80,349

You can’t deny the success of the economic development foundation in Tupelo. The group routinely ranks tops in the country when it comes to recruiting new companies, Senior Vice President Shane Homan said.

The foundation has existed for 60 years and was set up by community leaders who had a vision, he said.

“We had multiple organizations that had a duplication of services and purpose,” Homan said. “The community leaders at the time decided to consolidate all efforts into one.”

The 62-member board meets every other month, and a team of 21 employees runs the day-to-day operations.

The board is elected by the foundation’s members.

The foundation includes the chamber of commerce, community development and economic development efforts.

Funding comes from membership fees, city and county funding and revenue from services offered.

The city contributes $25,000 annually and the county contributes 1 mil of ad valorem taxes, a number that varies year to year.

When a new business project expresses interest in the Tupelo area, the foundation assigns a uniquely appointed team of employees to handle it.

Clarksdale and Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Foundation; population 27,543

The two economic development arms of the Clarksdale area are housed under the Chamber of Commerce.

But the industrial foundation and the economic development authority both have their own separate boards.

The EDA board has approximately 45 members and meets monthly or every other month depending on need, economic development Manager Tana Vassel said.

The board includes business leaders and the mayor and board of supervisors president.

The group is funded entirely by the county board of supervisors to the tune of approximately $138,000 a year.

The chamber of commerce and the industrial foundation are funded by membership fees.

The EDA owns industrial property and works to locate new businesses on it. Their greatest successes, Vassel said, have been with local businesses that have been able to expand.

One of the current bright spots is a steel company — which employees 60 people — that is expanding into a new building and planning to hire an additional 25 to 30 people.

Concordia Parish, population: 19,058

The Concordia Parish Industrial and Economic District was created by a Louisiana Legislative act in 1993.

Its board consists of the mayors of Vidalia, Ferriday, Ridgecrest and Clayton plus three at-large members from Vidalia, Ferriday and Monterey.

The district’s funding comes from a parish occupancy tax. Currently the annual budget from the tax cannot exceed $100,000, though Director Heather Malone is hoping to have that number increased in coming years.

In addition to the $100,000 from the tax, Malone is working to seek grants and other funding sources.

The district has no governing power over industrial sites in the parish, but does act as a marketing arm for the sites, Malone said.