A new decade ushers in new opportunity

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 27, 2009

As 2009 winds down later this week, heralding in not only a new year, but also a new decade, the collective feeling in the community seems to be “good riddance.”

It’s been an interesting year to say the least, particularly on the economic front, as our nation saw the continuation of what history may eventually call the Great Recession.

Our community is still feeling the results of what happens when banks pull back lending to a trickle, consumers see their retirement nest eggs nearly scrambled and two of nation’s three domestic auto manufacturers file for bankruptcy.

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Yes, 2009 was truly an unprecedented one for our nation. It was a year that started with great fear and seems to be ending with some optimism.

But the decade as a whole wasn’t particularly great for the Miss-Lou, either.

The very core of our local economy was flipped on its head. It was revolutionary in that most of the area’s long-standing heavy industry was under attack.

In the end, as in most revolutions, the leaders — International Paper, Johns Manville and Titan Tire — were all removed from their thrones.

Hundreds and hundreds of jobs were lost. And, while it’s easy to think that our area was somehow picked on, the reality is that that revolution happened in many parts of America.

Perhaps our main difference was that the changes seemed to catch us completely off guard.

As the global economic storms blasted all that we knew to be the normal, Natchez-Adams County simply didn’t have a diversified enough economic base to easily weather the storm.

Playing Monday morning quarterback is always easy.

So a wiser use of time might be to consider what can be done to make such issues less of an impact in the future.

The key to preparing for the future may be wrapped up in an organized economic development effort.

At the beginning and end of the decade the community’s economic development authority was in disarray.

The years in the middle were filled with an almost constant threat of pulled funding by city and county boards and almost non-existent communication between all sides.

Amazingly it took a 2009 dispute over funding before everyone involved realized no one had been following the law that required the city and county to meet and discuss the partnership each year.

One has to wonder where we would be if we had all been working together, on the same page, moving in the same direction.

That’s easy to say, but seemingly difficult to do in Natchez-Adams County.

Vidalia seems to have it figured out. And, hopefully, Natchez-Adams County is getting there.

The latest iteration of economic development involves shifting the majority of the economic authority’s leadership — and a significant portion of the funding — from the public to the private sector.

Getting private business involved could be the ultimate key but only if the new process can be made to include everyone who has a stake in making our community better.

That means practically everyone — black, white, young, old, rich poor, well-educated and poorly educated — needs to be invited to the table and each needs to feel their voice will be heard.

If our community can do that, we’ll quickly realize that the down days of the 2000s were simply the start of the roaring 2010s.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.