One may just be better than three

Published 11:57 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

The line that strikes to the gut of every unmarried female is how one of Mississippi’s top business recruiters describes Natchez.

Adams County has been close, but not close enough, to landing many a big industry, former Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Leland Speed said.

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Speed wouldn’t come out and say why exactly the bridesmaid is groom-less, but he did outline one contributing factor — cooperation or, more specifically, a lack thereof.

You don’t have to live in Natchez long to realize that many of our local leaders and local agencies simply don’t work well together.

Out-of-town consultants have pegged it as a problem year after year.

And most locals will acknowledge it as a fact of life.

From the spats between city leaders and county leaders right down to two baseball leagues, Natchez is divided.

Yet, the area now has a great chance to start out on a new foot. Since December, two of our area’s leading agencies have lost directors — the Economic Development Authority and the Natchez Downtown Development Authority.

Both directors took other jobs, and their positions are yet to be filled.

At the same time, we have a growing and successful Chamber of Commerce that offers stability and promise.

It’s time to consolidate services, offices and secretaries, while presenting a united front to locals and those considering Natchez as a new home.

Highly successful Tupelo consolidated several agencies years ago.

Their Community Development Foundation was created 61 years ago when a group of businessmen decided there was too much duplication of services among area agencies.

Now, the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Foundation and the Community Development arm are all under the same umbrella.

A director sits at the top of the management chain, but multiple vice presidents lead individual efforts. A 62-member board governs.

The foundation receives money from the city and the county.

Why can’t Natchez merge three similar agencies — the chamber, EDA and NDDA?

In Tupelo, a group of business leaders coming to the table to talk was the first step.

With two vacant jobs and three working boards, it’s time to consider all our options.

Let’s talk realistically about what Natchez might be in 61 years if we combine these three agencies now.

Such a discussion requires that sarcasm, hard feelings and pride be left at the door. The developing team needs to be real residents, businessmen and women, bankers, educators.

Many of the members of the NDDA, EDA and chamber boards are great for the team.

We have a problem in our community that likens itself to a preschool — we can’t play together.

But those of us who acknowledge it and do nothing are, in fact, the real problem.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or