Regionalism should be celebrated

Published 1:32 am Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going forward, perhaps we should celebrate June 25 as Regionalism Day.

By now, we all know that regionalism was at the heart of the aesthetic bridge lighting project that now fills the night sky over the Mississippi River.

Effectively two community leaders — Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland and Mississippi transportation chief Larry L. “Butch” Brown — got together and figured out how cool it would be if the Mississippi River bridge at Natchez were lit at night.

With some creative thinking and a stone-soup like approach — two agencies supplied the bulk of the funding, another the promise of paying the electric bill — the plan formed over time.

By working together, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the City of Vidalia turned a dream into an electrified reality.

Regretfully, I was unable to attend the official bridge lighting ceremony, having been in Tunica for the Mississippi Press Association’s annual conference.

Interestingly, though, the MPA meeting was also steeped in regionalism, too.

This year’s Mississippi conference was part of a Tri-State Press Convention, joining forces with the newspaper groups from Tennessee and Arkansas.

The effect of this was interesting. Just like we see when different local and state governments work together, when organizations join together, the power of the combined effort is equally impressive.

The large number of vendors who came to this year’s meeting, seeking to sell goods and services to newspapers, showed the simple effect of the power of numbers. A normal MPA meeting might draw just a handful of such vendors.

Combined however, approximately two-dozen vendors showed up.

One of the lunch presentations included a question and answer period with Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and economic development executives from both Mississippi and Tennessee and the predominant theme was regionalism.

Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Gray Swoope talked about the absolute necessity to balance the work required to retain existing businesses and develop international business relationships.

Tennessee Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development Matthew Kisber said approximately half of all the significant developments Tennessee has seen in the last few years have come from companies with headquarters outside the United States.

In addition, Swoope said Mississippi joined Louisiana, Alabama and Florida to form the Aerospace Alliance to use the combined power to promote the Southeast for aerospace and aviation development.

Hopefully that level of regionalism can also begin to trickle down to our community where regionalism isn’t just a cool buzzword but is a necessity for our survival.

Perhaps the bridge lighting can serve as an example that states can, in fact, work together on local projects, too.

High on the list of items our community needs is the ability to be able to work out a way to waive out-of-state tuition for community and technical colleges.

Further, we need the state’s understanding that if either side of the river isn’t a fit for a particular prospect, putting it on the other side is still good for our community.

Regionalism is a process and one we hope continues to take hold of our old ways of doing things.

When we all start thinking as a region, who knows what we can accomplish?

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