Changes need our faith, support

Published 12:08 am Sunday, May 23, 2010

We all know that when “hell froze over” some crazy things happened in our world.

Sports fans are well aware that the frozen underworld led the charge of the New Orleans Saints football team.

The “Who Dat?” nation celebrated on Super Bowl Sunday as pigs took to the skies, and the Saints made history.

But in our community, an equally amazing feat has occurred, or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say, is occurring.

Our community’s economic future shifted from being solely in the hands of elected officials to being firmly in the hands of the men and women who are driving our area’s economy — local business people.

Sure, it’s not nearly as exciting as the images of flying pigs wearing shoulder pads and helmets with fleurs-de-lis emblazoned on the sides, but it’s huge news for our community.

A little over a year ago, political motivations and lots of misinformation led a few Adams County Supervisors to light the fuse that eventually blew up our community’s former EDA structure.

The former EDA was, most folks will agree, functioning only because of the will and determination of a single board member.

Despite his effort — which was greatly appreciated — the structure was malformed. It simply gave too much power and oversight to elected officials.

Business owners incorrectly assumed the job was in good hands. It wasn’t. Neither the city nor the county, though both funded the EDA, trusted it fully and neither used the EDA correctly.

Each agency would take the first stab at any development that came knocking rather than turning it over to the professionals.

Business leaders have seen the past errors and are quickly fixing for the future.

In less than six months, the business community — all led by volunteers — has raised nearly half a million dollars in private funding.

Those donations will be used over the next three years along with public funds to operate a new economic development entity, Natchez Inc.

To raise that level of funds, create and pass legislation to dissolve the old EDA and gain state permission for the city and county to donate public funds to a new non-profit, all in approximately six months is a huge accomplishment.

It’s evident already that by having business leaders — not solely politicians — leading the charge, things are getting done at record speed.

To all of those involved to date, I, for one, say “thank you” on behalf of the hundreds of business owners and leaders.

Our community’s inability to play well together and get out of its own way may be things of the past.

Change has come.

In nine days the new public-private economic development entity, Natchez Inc., will be born, led by a board of seven business and community leaders, each volunteering their services.

Elected boards appoint only two of those people.

The structure is right.

But for the group to be successful, everyone must join in supporting this group as it takes flight.

The business community has shown its willingness to put some skin in the game with its monetary donations to date. More donations may be ultimately need, but more important, the group needs the community’s faith and, at some point, our sweat, too.

Successful economic development isn’t easy; it takes work — teamwork.

That may seem like an impossible thing to accomplish — pulling our diverse community together — but as a long-time Saints fan, “I believe.”

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