Local leaders make list of goals for Miss-Lou in 2019

Published 12:30 am Sunday, January 13, 2019


NATCHEZ — The start of a new year is a good time to take stock of the past year’s accomplishments and to set goals for the future.

Many people do just that in their personal lives, making New Year’s resolutions to live healthier lives or by setting other personal goals for the next year.

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Area leaders are setting priorities for the community in the year ahead as well.

Most area leaders agree 2018 set the stage for what could be a prosperous year ahead for the Miss-Lou in 2019, but the past year also shed light on some areas that need improvement, such as the crime rate that included 14 murders in Natchez and Adams County in 2018.

Below are some of the top goals some of the Miss-Lou’s top leaders said they would like to see accomplished in 2019.

Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc.

Russ said the Miss-Lou is poised for progress in the coming year in several economic aspects.

A top priority Russ said is getting two new industries up and running — Vidalia Denim, a denim manufacturing operation that is locating in the Vidalia Industrial Park, and Syrah Resources, a manufacturing operation locating in Vidalia that will supply spherical graphite, used in electric automobile batteries, to the automotive industry.

Both companies announced their plans to locate in Vidalia last year and should be in operation this year bringing a combined 350-plus jobs.

Russ said he also hopes to see more new businesses in the Miss-Lou in the next year.

“We hope to, as always, have new businesses or manufacturers in our area,” Russ said. “We typically have a goal of $100 million. Our goal is to see those investments come into the region.”

As for existing businesses, Russ said the community could expect the Eola Hotel in downtown Natchez to become operational in 2019 after ongoing renovations are completed later this year, and he also hopes to see some existing industries expand this year.

“(We hope) to see … some of our industry expand, like Great River Industries, World Energy, Delta Energy, von Drehle,” Russ said. “We hope to see them continue to grow and expand both in employment and additional capital investment into their facilities.”

Also on Russ’ economic development wish list for 2019: “It would be nice to see oil creep up to around $75 or $80 to drive more oil exploration in our region. That would be a huge, benefit for ’19.”

Russ said he expects to see continued infrastructure and site development in the Miss-Lou to accommodate industrial projects, including working to secure the final funding for the Belwood levee project, a project to protect the low-lying former Belwood Country Club property from flooding so it can be utilized as an industrial site, and completion of railroad projects and site clean up on the old International Paper property.

“On our regional front,” Russ said, “we hope to see the Vidalia gas line that will serve the Vidalia Industrial Park completed and operational, and we plan to certify another industrial site — the Belwood site is already certified. We want to do the same thing for the Vidalia Industrial Park with the State of Louisiana.”

Russ said he expects to see continued progress of Natchez Inc.’s small business development initiative including an entrepreneur center, business incubators and a workforce development initiative.

“Obviously, from a community development standpoint,” Russ said, “I’d like to see our crime rate come down and not be an issue as it hasn’t been in the past. Hopefully, it was an anomaly last year. Hopefully, we will see a better crime rate along those lines.”

Darryl Grennell, Natchez Mayor

Grennell said reducing Natchez and Adams County’s crime rate is a top priority for the year ahead.

“I want to see a major reduction in crime,” Grennell said. “I don’t want to see the numbers that we saw in 2018 as it relates to homicides.”

Natchez and Adams County had 14 murders in 2018 mostly due to rival factions of youths retaliating against each other for perceived slights and past offenses, law enforcement authorities have said.

Grennell said he is working closely with Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong as well as Adams County leaders, including Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten, to reduce crime.

“I want to see where the city will have cameras installed throughout the city that can aid our police department in terms of any criminal activities that occur,” Grennell said.

Another top priority Grennell said he would like to focus on this year is bringing more jobs to the city, and he is working with economic development leaders on an economic prospect he hopes will come to fruition in Natchez within the year.

“I want to see some job creation for the city,” Grennell said. “I want to see some prosperity. I also want to see some of the projects in terms of retail growth throughout this entire city.”

Implementation of phases of a Natchez Downtown Master Plan completed last year also is a priority, Grennell said, as is getting a dock constructed Under-the-Hill on the riverfront for future growth and development in the city.

“One of the things we see going on now is the Eola is undergoing some restoration for a future opening which is going to have a positive domino effect,” Grennell said. “I want to see every empty building in downtown Natchez occupied with a business.”

To help facilitate that goal, Grennell said he plans to work to secure grant money to improve sidewalks and curbs throughout downtown Natchez.

“I want to see development going on in the black history district,” Grennell said. “I want to see that project moving forward.”

Grennell said he is optimistic about the year ahead.

“I know that great things are in store for our city,” Grennell said. “I think we are going to see a lot of great things happen this year.”

James Ricky Gray, Adams County supervisor district 4

Gray said he would like to see an end to violence in the community and for community organizations and leaders to work together more harmoniously.

“The first thing I hope we accomplish is a spirit of unity and peace. What we’ve been having going on in our community can’t continue to happen like that,” Gray said of recent violence. “I don’t know what’s fueling that, but we need to have some spirit of unity and peace.”

Gray said he, too, would like to see the city and county and organizations work more closely together to address issues of importance to the community.

In terms of economic growth in the next year, Gray said he would like to see the community work to improve prospects at the port and the airport.

Calvin Butler, Adams County Supervisor District 5

Butler said improving fire protection in the county is a top priority for him this year.

Adding fire stations in the county and more firefighters, Butler said, would help save structures, lives and also lower insurance rates.

Butler said he believes the key to improving fire protection is to work closely with the City of Natchez.

“I would like to see where the county can set up some fire stations out in the county to save houses and lives and give our people out in the county a little lower insurance rate,” Butler said. “Also at the same time work with the city fire department to become a support group for each other kind of like a consolidation of county and city fire departments.”

Butler said county supervisors are looking for a funding source for the county fire department.

“We were told if you had two fulltime employees at a county fire station, it would be considered a fulltime station,” Butler said.

Last year Mississippi had 79 fire deaths and at least two in Adams County. Butler said rural areas, including Adams County have slower response times than in cities.

“By the time you get the city firefighters and volunteers in place to get there the house is lost, maybe a life is lost,” Butler said. “So, that is one of the things that is dear to my heart is to try to consolidate our fire protection for the community as a whole.”

Another top priority, Butler said he would like to see accomplished this year is to develop more soccer and baseball fields to bring in more tournaments to the area.

Butler said he also would like to focus on upgrading and maintaining roads and bridges throughout the county.

Buz Craft, Vidalia Mayor

Craft said his top priority is for people to stay positive about the prospects in the Miss-Lou in the coming year.

Last year, Vidalia landed two industrial prospects — Vidalia Denim and Syrah Technologies — that promise to bring 350-plus much-needed jobs to the area.

Both projects are still in the works and the Craft said he wants people to stay positive.

“If they will just stay positive with us and be optimistic about our future because the negativity doesn’t help anything … we strive to do our best to bring jobs back to our area.”

Craft also said he expects work to be completed soon on a new barge loading facility in the Vidalia port and Craft said he is excited by the recent opening of the new TownPlace Suites hotel on the riverfront in Vidalia that brought 25-30 jobs.

“We want to continue to get all of the new things that we do have open and going,” Craft said. “Getting our port going. Getting Vidalia Denim online, Syrah coming online. We have some other businesses kicking the tires and talking about property in Vidalia and who want to come to Vidalia, and we’re just going to stay on top of those things and encourage that.”

Jennifer Ogden Combs, executive director of Visit Natchez

Combs said for 2019 she would like to see more visitors coming to Natchez.

“I want lots and lots of heads on beds,” Combs said. “I want people eating in our restaurants, people shopping in our wonderful shops. More visitors, more business travelers.”

Combs said cooperation from community organizations and residents could help make visitors’ experiences in Natchez more fulfilling.

“The bottom line goal,” Combs said, “is creating a compelling visitor experience that is an interesting, exceptional experience for whatever the visitor is coming for, whether it is a conference convention, whether it is people getting away for a weekend.”

Combs said she is optimistic that sports betting, offered in the recently created Sports Book room at the Magnolia Bluff Casino, will draw more visitors to Natchez as well.

“I would love to see us sell out on Super Bowl weekend, because we have Sports Book in Natchez,” Combs said. “We’ve got Sports Book. I’d like to see the entire month of March with Pilgrimage and March Madness have people in the restaurants and hotels and going to see our wonderful events of the Pilgrimage season and the casino doing really well and all of us doing really well because of Sports Book.”

Increasing tourism is good for everyone, Combs said.

“The more visitors who come to our town and spend their money here, support our restaurants and shops and gas stations and venues and attractions,” Combs said, “the more that puts into our local economy, which then impacts us.”