Vidalia hosts first of three regionalism forums

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

VIDALIA — Local leaders and laymen gathered Monday to discuss the concept of regionalism, and the leaders had one clear message to the laymen — if it’s going to work, it’s up to you.

The Miss-Lou Steering committee had the first of three public forums Tuesday in Vidalia, and members of the committee shared what they have been doing and answered questions from the public.

The committee was formed in the hopes of marketing the region as a whole, Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial Development District Director Heather Malone said.

“The committee has come to realize that independently Adams County and Concordia Parish have a lot to offer, however, by combining our efforts the Miss-Lou can become an economic force in Southwest Mississippi and Northeast Louisiana,” Concordia Bank President and committee member Pat Biglane said. “The Mississippi River is not a division of our states — it is the interstate highway for both of our communities.”

Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin said he acknowledges that Ferriday isn’t the strongest link in the Miss-Lou chain, but it has plenty to offer.

“We know that Vidalia and Natchez are stronger than Ferriday, but we have a workforce in Ferriday that is willing to work,” he said. “If 152 people in Ferriday get a job eight miles away and bring the money back to Ferriday, I have no problem with that. That’s regionalism.”

And while the committee is dedicated to bringing in new business, Biglane said committee members realized that 50 percent of economic development is dedicated to preserving existing businesses.

But for things to work, committee member the Rev. Simeon Green said that the community would have to be involved in the committee’s efforts.

Quoting the late President John F. Kennedy, Green said that it was time for community members to ask what they could do for their community instead of what the community could do for them.

“When we started planning, right from the beginning, it wasn’t about self, it wasn’t about Natchez, it wasn’t about Ferriday, it wasn’t about Vidalia, it became clear it was about you, the people of the Miss-Lou,” Green said.

“We recognize that if we as a steering committee plan with your help to improve economic development with regionalism, it will be a team effort, not about gender, not about race and not about the past. It is about being proactive. We hope you will seize this opportunity to improve not only economic development, but also our race relations, our education and our local government. We agree that together we are better.”

The committee plans to form subcommittees soon, appointing community members to serve.

“We really want you to tell us what you are interested in, what you have a passion in,” said Margaret Perkins of First Natchez Radio Group. “We are looking for any ideas from all of you.”

The sub-committees will address economic development, community development, health care, education-workforce, housing and communications-public relations.

The economic development committee will be further divided into groups dealing with tourism, finance, site selection and infrastructure.

The community development committee will be broken down into groups dealing with leadership development and race relations.

The committees will have more representation from the private sector than from public officials, Malone said.

“It is really up to the private sector in the community as to what happens in the community,” Malone said. “The government can only do so much.”

Though there has been past talk of regionalism that never resulted in anything, Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said he believes the time is ripe for the concept, noting the planned 2011 merge of the Ferriday and Vidalia Chambers of Commerce.

“The various functions we have been having in the last year, Natchez, Ferriday, the surrounding areas are all attending those functions,” he said. “We have never seen those things before.”

Another key to the future will be education, and members spoke of working with legislators and local schools to waive out-of-state fees for students crossing state lines.

The steering committee is composed of elected officials and business and civic leaders.

Members of the steering committee present at the forum included Louisiana Hydroelectric General Manger David Harris, Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton, Perkins, Copeland, Green, McGlothin, The Natchez Democrat Publisher Kevin Cooper, Biglane and Concordia Sentinel General Manager Lesley Capdepon.

Adams County Supervisor Mike Lazarus and Police Juror Jimmy Jernigan are on the committee but were not at the forum.

The next forum will be at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Arcade Theater in Ferriday.

For more information, contact the Ferriday Chamber of Commerce at 318-757-4297.

As the forum ended, Copeland encouraged those present to take the message of regionalism with them.

“Adams County has a population of approximately 33,000, and Concordia Parish has one of approximately 21,000,” Copeland said. “That means there’s approximately 49,000 people who aren’t here today. It’s important for you to take this to them.”