Natchez, Inc. is in good hands with VisionFirst

Published 12:01 am Saturday, September 7, 2019

Natchez, Inc. will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2020 and is using that benchmark to get input from our community into what it sees as priorities for its next 10 years.

Natchez, Inc. hired the consulting firm VisionFirst Advisors to guide that process, as well as to fine tune a strategic plan for further economic development here.

The name of the consulting firm didn’t mean anything to me, though it should have. However, when I walked into a meeting with the group on Wednesday, I saw two familiar faces and was immediately buoyed by the decision made by Natchez, Inc. to hire VisionFirst.

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There sat two people with whom I worked closely in a similar project about a year and a half ago in Vicksburg. While I didn’t remember his company’s name, I surely remembered Gray Swoope and Melissa Medley.

The two helped guide Vicksburg toward the development of a strategic plan for economic development there, which has already paid dividends in that community.

Natchez is about eight years ahead of Vicksburg in the structured economic development process. It was 10 years ago that the city, county and Natchez business community in the form of Natchez Now came together to form Natchez, Inc. to spearhead economic development here.

That only happened in Vicksburg in early 2017. Before that, there was no structured economic development there and the community struggled mightily. Since the city, county, port commission and business community came together in Vicksburg to emulate what Natchez did eight years earlier, they have several economic development successes.

The results here in economic development have been enormous, truly. The successes are many. One need only look at Great River Industries, Von Drehle and others, including Vidalia Denim and Syrah in Vidalia to see that. Have there been a few failures? Certainly. That is to be expected. The gains here far outweigh the failures. But the Natchez-Vidalia area is much better off because of the work of Natchez, Inc.

In fact, Natchez wages last year increased an average of 5.1 percent, according to independent research conducted by VisionFirst. Natchez also has plenty of jobs available. What’s lacking is the skilled workforce to do them. That fact is nothing new to small, rural communities like ours and is something VisionFirst will help us make a plan to address in our strategic plan.

Swoope and Medley are the right people to help Natchez plan for its next level of economic development. Swoope was executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority under Gov. Hailey Barbour. Medley was in charge of communications for Barbour.

After Barbour’s last term, Swoope and Medley went to work for Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Swoope was Scott’s secretary of commerce and Medley was chief marketing officer for Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. These people know what they are doing.

Because of my past experience with them, I’m excited about the work VisionFirst will do here, the opportunity for input from every single person in this community, should they want to share their thoughts, and for the plan that will result from the expertise of Chandler Russ and others at Natchez, Inc. combined with that of Swoope and Medley and others at VisionFirst.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Natchez Democrat. You may reach her at or by calling 601-445-3627.