Union County development group names new director

NEW ALBANY – A familiar face has been named executive director of the the Union County Development Association.
Phil Nanney, a resident of New Albany and Union County for the past 26 years, has spent the past 13 years in the industrial custom machine tool business. The 59-year-old was officially named to the post on Monday.
According to the UCDA board of directors in its announcement of the hiring, Nanney’s skills in organization and relationship-building will benefit the area as it anticipates the opening of the Toyota facility in Blue Springs and its impact ofon the region.
Although Nanney has been on the job for only a week, he said he already has some projects and plans in mind but wants to get settled into his new job more before elaborating on them.
But he was willing to be specific on some goals.
“My primary thrust is going to be to work with the city, county board of supervisors and UCDA board, of course,” he said. “But I have been tasked to develop the existing businesses that we have, to work with our school systems to work with the different entities in the county and city, to bring our standard of living up, if you want to put it as such.”
A large part of improving the standard of living depends on jobs and, necessary to that, education.
“We have plans to work with human resources people,” Nanney said. “Human resources people know the jobs they are looking for workers to fill. They know the worker pool and they know what it is going to take to bring it up to a level where they can fill jobs that are available.”

Getting schools involved
Nanney wants to bring Northeast Mississippi Community College, Blue Mountain College and Itawamba Community College at some point because of their strong work force training efforts to develop better work programs.
“I’m very interested in starting an expanded GED program,” he said. “Our county, according to Northeast officials, was number one in their region in people obtaining their GEDs. I’d like to see that grow.”
That goal also meshes with a region-wide need.
Nanney noted he went to the recent CREATE State of the Region meeting where the emphasis was on education.
“It brought to awareness the fact that some people are struggling economically because they don’t have the education,” he said.
“I want to look at some way to develop a process that requires a candidate to make a commitment to get their GED and to follow through with some type of occupational training,” Nanney said. “Whether it be through Northeast or ICC or the Tupelo campus of Ole Miss, but something where we can take people who are minimum-wage employees, get them a GED, get them some training, so they can better themselves and their families’ lives.”
Although the economic environment has dampened some enthusiasm about the coming Toyota plant, the effect of the $1.3 billion is very much on Nanney’s radar.
“It’s going to hit in a couple of years and if we’re not ready we’re going to feel it,” he said. “The same thing is going to happen to us that happened in Canton. In the early days of Nissan plant, out of the 82 counties in Mississippi, 80 were represented on their work roll. I would love to see New Albany and Pontotoc, or Union, Pontotoc and Lee County be the primary employment pool for Toyota. But we’ve got to be ready.”
Key to the success of any UCDA efforts is community backing and public awareness is paramount, he said.
“The more transparent our organization is, the more people will see we are doing something, and that something is going to benefit our community and our county. I think that’s important,” he said.
And young people are the other part of his education focus. He not only wants to educate people better, he also wants to keep those well-trained young people in Union County.
“We are going to try to keep our good minds here and not allow them to go to other communities,” Nanney said. “The most important resource that we export is our young people and I would like to see that reversed.”

J. Lynn West/New Albany News-Exchange

Click video to hear audio