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Regionalism luncheon promotes ‘coopertition’

John Harter, left, and Tom Taylor listen as Mississippi Development Authority Deputy Director Whit Hughes addresses regionalism at the Miss-Lou regional steering committee’s luncheon Wednesday afternoon at the Natchez Convention Center. (Eric Shelton / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The Miss-Lou’s reach toward regionalism took another step Wednesday afternoon as the economic development subcommittee of the Miss-Lou regional steering committee hosted the first luncheon of the year.

Mississippi Development Authority Deputy Director Whit Hughes and Louisiana Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret both spoke to the crowd on the concept of “coopertition.”

“Economic development is a competitive business which pits communities and states against each other,” Hughes said. “And it is necessary for for states or regions to be competitive.”

Hughes said that even though neighboring communities or states may be in competition with each other, they are also working together for economic development opportunities.

“Your community cannot single handedly deliver on everything that someone is looking for,” he said. “Entire regions benefit when there is job creation and investment going on. When a neighboring community has success, it’s good for everybody.”

Moret said there is so much more that can be accomplished when communities work together with each other and not by themselves.

“With smaller towns, it is hard to make people aware of what they have to offer,” he said. “Small towns wanting to participate in any economic opportunities have to be in a regional area to have help.”

Moret said thinking regionally is something businesses look at when they are choosing locations for a new project.

“When a business chooses a location, they are not looking just at the particular town it is in, they are looking at the whole region,” he said. “They are looking at the quality of the workforce, the education, health care and other things that the whole region has to offer.”

Moret said when companies are looking for sites to place their businesses, they look at the bigger picture.

“We call it a site selection, but it’s more like a site elimination,” he said. “It’s a very rare company that feels like they can only be successful in one place.”

Hughes said because there are so many locations, quality of life is a major factor in determining whether or not a business stays in an area.

“When you get down to the short list, they start making decisions based on where they want their senior executives and their families to stay,” he said.

Both Moret and Hughes said that when two communities are in “coopertition” with each other, it is important to focus on shared opportunities.

“There is no way that two communities will agree on the same priorities,” Moret said. “The goal is to think about where shared opportunities are and finding a way to cultivate and develop those.”

Hughes said the shared interests give synergy to the region, and that is just one of five factors that are necessary for “coopertition.”

Respecting your competition, trust, setting clear ground rules and waiting on the right time to move ahead with things were the other four factors Hughes gave for successful “coopertition.”

“Ultimately coopertition is about relationships,” he said. “There is a value to adding partners and reaching a great trust level.”

Moret and Hughes said the decision made by Adams County and Concordia Parish to work together as a region was a great move.

Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial District Executive Director Heather Malone said she was glad that the efforts by the steering committee have not slowed down.

“This has been a really grassroots effort, and we are constantly moving forward,” she said.

Malone said the committee is now working on a strategic plan to identify ways for the Miss-Lou to move forward in the coming years.

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