Southwest Mississippi deserves more

Published 10:42 am Saturday, September 9, 2023

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I often talk about how Natchez deserves more, but if I’m being truthful, our Southwest Mississippi region deserves more.  Often over- shadowed by more populated areas like Jackson-metro, the Gulf Coast, the Tupelo area, and the college towns of our state, it sometimes feels like our tucked away corner of Mississippi goes unnoticed.

I am happy to report that in 2023, our region is on the move, and it was my pleasure to host mayors, alderpersons, department directors, and even some county level officials, legislators and workforce training specialists at the Southwest Mississippi Mayors’ Association Summer Summit, held at the Natchez Convention Center last Wednesday, August 30th. I am told this was the first such meeting ever held for our region, and we were blessed to have almost every city and town represented!  It would not have happened without expenses for the conference being generously sponsored by Paradise Companies and Taco Bell.

The morning began with a session led by President of the of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Public Works Association, Bobby Simmons.  Of the many excellent points made during his presentation, one that stood out for me is that public works employees are first responders.  They are often the first ones out when a storm or emergency hits and should be acknowledged for their service to their respective communities.  Also speaking during the morning was Mike Hurst, attorney at Phelps Dunbar and former US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.  He spoke about issues important to law enforcement and strategies on how to curb crime.  Completing the departmental sessions was John Pope, Fire Chief of Collins, Mississippi, and President of the Mississippi Firefighters Association.  Chief Pope is a seasoned veteran in fire service and gave a wonderful presentation on both fire protection methods and funding strategies.

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Three of the sessions focused on working with area partners in economic development, community development, and workforce development.  We were honored to have Bill Cork, Chief Economic Development Officer with the Mississippi Development Authority, as one of our speakers.  Mr. Cork has managed billions of dollars in industry projects helping move Mississippi forward. Wirt Peterson, Executive Director of Southwest Mississippi Planning and Development District, gave an update on our local PDD’s efforts in all the important areas they touch – from helping the needy to assisting with major grants such as the $445,000 Workforce Development Grant Natchez recently received from the Delta Regional Authority. We also enjoyed a Workforce Development Round Table as many leaders in this field were in attendance from area partners like Co-Lin, Southwest Mississippi Community College, the Fallin Center, WIN Job Center, and Accelerate Mississippi, our state’s new Department of Workforce Development.

Also speaking during the summit were mayors, state legislators, and a very special keynote speaker.  During lunch we had a mayor’s roundtable with Joe Cox (Brookhaven), Sally Garland (Crystal Springs), and Mary Hawkins Butler (Madison).  Each mayor had words of wisdom and interesting stories for the attendees and provided a valuable Q and A at the end of the session.  Also in attendance was Hattiesburg Mayor and Mississippi Municipal League President Toby Barker.  We were updated on policy affecting municipalities in our region by a host of state legislators during our legislative panel discussion.  Those in attendance were Rep. Greg Holloway, Rep. Sam Mims, Rep. Daryl L. Porter, Jr., Rep. Angela Cockerham, and Sen. Kelvin Butler.  We finished the day with a keynote speech by Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Philip Gunn.  We were honored to host our outgoing Speaker who has done so much for Natchez and Southwest Mississippi.

What a blessing it was to welcome municipal leaders from wonderful towns and cities stretching from Port Gibson to Woodville, and Meadville to Monticello, Summit and beyond. Each community represented has its own unique charm, historic character, and beauty – but we share so many of the same challenges. At the end of the day, we all agreed it is time for Southwest Mississippi to organize! I look forward to a continuing working relationship with these outstanding regional leaders – because not only does Natchez Deserve More, Southwest Mississippi Deserves More!

Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez.