Josh West has one mission, and it’s nothing complicated.
“We want more and better jobs,” said West, the regional economic director for Union and Pontotoc counties.
In a newly created position that began Sept. 1, West’s primary duty is recruiting new industry to the counties.
Those jobs were once the domain of the Pontotoc Chamber of Commerce and the Union County Development Association. But with West’s new position, those organizations can focus more on retaining and expanding existing industry.
“It also brings stability,” said Randy Kelley, executive director of Three Rivers Planning and Development District, where West is housed. “There’s strength in combining the efforts into one job, and Three Rivers of course will continue to work with the Pontotoc Chamber and UCDA.”
The Pontotoc and Union groups have had several changes in leadership the past few years, and Kelley said it was important that business and industry looking in the area knew where to turn.
“Josh is from the area, he knows the area and he’s worked with business and industry,” Kelley said. “He knows about filling vacant property and working hand in hand with business leaders.”
West, who was born in Verona, grew up in Pontotoc. He graduated from South Pontotoc High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Delta State University.
He worked in then-U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker’s office in Washington and later earned a master’s degree in public policy and public administration from Mississippi State University.
He was working for Parkway Properties in Memphis when he applied for the job earlier this year.
“It was a perfect fit,” he said. “The Pontotoc and Union leaders saw the success of the PUL Alliance and used that as a model for this job.”
West’s position is funded by the two counties.
While the Pontotoc Chamber and UCDA will concentrate on existing business and industry, that doesn’t mean West will be left out of the loop in that effort. Recruiting new industry and retaining existing industry can be overlapping jobs.
For example, Phil Nanney, UCDA’s executive director, said, “Just last week Josh and I went together to show property for a potential client, so we do work together.”
Nanney said having West in the new job will allow UCDA to focus more of its efforts in working with local business and industry.
Kelley said creating West’s job was so he could concentrate on the “big picture.”
“Not every county is in a position to have a large enough staff to do everything that needs to be done in economic development,” Kelley said. “Having Josh in his position will allow Pontotoc and Union utilize its resources in a better way, and at the same time, everybody will benefit.”
But how will West balance the desires of Ponotoc and Union counties at the same time, especially when it comes to recruiting new industry?
“I call it ‘coopertition,’” West said, using the term coined by Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Gray Swoope.
“My job is to show what each county has to offer, identifying our assets. But I’ll let the companies ultimately decide where they want to go. There’s always going to be a sense of competition … but we know that economic development is all about cooperation and working together, too.”
No official name has been given to the combined Union-Pontotoc economic development agency that West heads, which is fine by him.
“I just want to concentrate on getting those jobs to the region,” he said.
In August, the jobless rate in the two counties was similar – 9.7 percent in Pontotoc and 9.4 percent in Union.
And to help reduce those numbers, West said he’ll need to learn more about what the area has to offer and to see what can be done to diversify the economy.
“The leaders in Pontotoc and Union have laid a tremendous foundation for the future, and my job is to build on that,’ he said. “We need to think about the next 20-30 years … it’s not just about more and better jobs, but also about being more diverse.”
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal