2020 hindsight: Oxford looks ahead to next two decades

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

EDITOR’S NOTE: In anticipation of Oxford’s soon-to-be-updated long-range plan, Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens offers a two-part look back at the community’s 1999 plan – “Vision 2020.”
Today’s article focuses on civic enrichment, economic development and education.

OXFORD – Oxford is setting the stage to update “Vision 2020,” the long-range plan its citizens and leaders created in 1999. The new plan is tentatively titled “2037 – Seeing Oxford at its Bicentennial.”
“As we approach that time marker we want to make sure we are on track and anticipating the next 20-plus years,” Mayor Pat Patterson said.
Not every objective of the plan has been achieved, but community leaders and residents can point to a host of accomplishments that sprang from the effort.
Civic Enrichment
The old Electric Department is now the Powerhouse Arts Complex.
“By having a space dedicated to community based arts it has created jobs, expanded quality and diversity of arts in the community and marketed the cultural heritage of the region, attracting tourists,” said Wayne Andrews, Yoknapatawpha Arts Council executive director.
The Ford Center for the Performing Arts, built by the University of Mississippi, has hosted world-class theater, music and other acts along with campus events and conferences. Its 2008 Presidential Debate put Oxford and Ole Miss in their most favorable national spotlight ever.
FNC Park created a new athletic complex to replace overcrowded and scattered facilities for many of Oxford Park Commission’s sports programs.
Other 2020-related civic advancements include ongoing development of Lamar Park, the advent of a farmers’ market and a community garden.
Still in the works is a plan to create a one-stop center to house charitable nonprofits and a family resource center. Patterson has suggested the old armory after the transit system moves to new quarters.
Education
With a population that grew five times as fast as the state as a whole from 2000 to 2010, Lafayette County and its two school systems saw both increased enrollment and new facilities, the highlight of which will be a new 1,200-student Oxford High School.
The Education committee’s first recommendation was that children be prepared for first grade. Pre-K classes in both school systems and a communitywide “Excel by 5″ program are aimed at that objective.
While the goal “recognition as the best school systems in the nation” is a long way from completion, both Oxford and Lafayette schools consistently score above Northeast Mississippi and statewide averages on a host of measures.
As with most Northeast Mississippi counties, Lafayette County has funded scholarships to guarantee two years’ tuition for resident graduates who wish to attend community college.
Economic Development
Oxford’s economy hasn’t dipped as badly as some, but the loss of more than 1,600 manufacturing jobs, a spate of foreclosures and the near halt of the building boom have proven the wisdom in Vision 2020’s pursuit of economic development and diversification.
FNC Inc., a homegrown mortgage technology company, has expanded its Oxford workforce while adding employees in cities across the nation.
“FNC has enjoyed enormous growth since its inception in 1999 – in revenue as well as human resources,” said Dennis Tosh, one of the company’s founders. Insight Park opened its first facility this year with the mission to host business tenants that will bring Ole Miss research to the marketplace.
Even industrial jobs are back on the upswing. Olin/Winchester provided a slight rebound when it opened in 2004, and the company’s new Centerfire plant promises to employ some 1,000 in the next few years.
Higher education continues to be Oxford’s greatest economic force, while the prospect of a new hospital means more healthcare jobs.
“The growth of Ole Miss in its student enrollment, events and facilities as well as appearance continue to play a major role in the improvement of our community and establishes Oxford/ as a destination of choice for visitors,” said Max Hipp, executive director of the Oxford-Lafayette Economic Development Foundation. “Our growing medical community will continue to ensure that Oxford will continue to develop in a positive manner, and we anticipate growing job opportunities for our long-term future.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com