Business owners talk private economic development funding

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 10, 2009

NATCHEZ — Even if the details are still a little fuzzy, the message of Wednesday’s meeting of business leaders was clear. It was written on a large pad of paper just behind the podium: “Natchez MS #1.”

In the first meeting to discuss the creation of a private funding source for local economic development, the group loosely dubbed, “Natchez Now” met at Regions Bank with a little more than 50 people present.

“This is the most enthusiastic group we’ve had since the 1980s,” said Chuck Fretterd, a retiree and former Chamber of Commerce leader.

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The purpose of the meeting was to begin organization of what will eventually become a private funding source for a new economic development group for the community.

The idea came from a recent study of economic development options for Natchez and Adams County produced by Boyette Strategic Advisors.

BSA’s plan calls for the dissolution of the current Economic Development Authority and the creation of a new non-profit economic development entity — both of which require state legislative approval, if the city and county government agree on the plan and send it to Jackson.

An important part of the proposed new entity would be both funding and board seats provided by the private sector — ostensibly the Natchez Now group.

The preliminary goal was to obtain $115,000 in annual private sector commitments for the next three years. That would be added to the county’s $165,000 contribution and the city’s $100,000 one.

For the private sector’s part, local developer Glenn Green said he hopes the group can surpass the $115,000 in pledged donations within 30 days.

As the group begins to get organized and forming its legal entity, the fundraising efforts will begin soon, as will more group meetings, organizers said.

“We’ve got a lot of work still ahead of us,” said Benny Jeansonne, past president of the chamber, who was presiding over the meeting.

Attorney Paul Benoist challenged the group to remember to be prepared to compromise for the good of the group and work hard to make the plans work.

“It’s going to take some selfless behavior by everyone,” he said.

“Everybody wants the same thing,” said Pat Biglane, president of Concordia Bank & Trust. “If you get the city, county and chamber behind this thing, it will work.”

Entergy Mississippi Director of Economic Development John Turner was at Wednesday’s meeting and echoed Benoist and Biglane’s beliefs.

“It all starts with the local community. The subliminal message is: you’ve got to work together,” he said. “What does this community want to be? What can it be?

“If you want to make money in the stock market, you have to invest,” he said, adding economic development is the same way.