CATEGORY: Pontotoc County



By Jane Hill

Daily Journal

PONTOTOC – Bill Wardlaw hopes his many years of experience as a church musical director will help him make the economic and community development concerns of Pontotoc County and the city of Pontotoc harmonize.

Wardlaw, the newly appointed director of the Pontotoc County Chamber of Commerce, took over his duties last week, becoming the first full time director in the history of the chamber. He replaces former director Carl Michael who has retired.

Wardlaw was chosen from 45 applicants who were screened by a division of the nonprofit charitable organization CREATE Foundation, which has been helping Northeast Mississippi counties develop community and industrial development strategies. The names of the top five applicants were given to the chamber directors and Wardlaw was chosen from that group.

Harry Patterson, president of the chamber, said Wardlaw’s enthusiasm, energy and ability to work well with others were three of the key points that sold his application to chamber members.

“We found the chamber was at a crossroads,” Patterson said. “We could either turn back or go forward. We chose to go forward.”

Wardlaw is a native of Pontotoc County and a graduate of Pontotoc High School and Itawamba Community College. After his graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served for 20 years during which time he was an air traffic control instructor at a naval base outside Memphis. Also while in Memphis, Wardlaw worked as the minister of music at the Beverly Hills Baptist Church.

After his retirement in 1985, Wardlaw returned to Pontotoc County to help his father operate the county farm. He also has served as the minister of music at the First Baptist Church of Okolona. Three of Wardlaw’s four children also are residents of Pontotoc County.

“It is remarkable how everything has turned out. I am excited about the fact that a person can grow up in a community, gain experience elsewhere in the world and then use that experience to contribute to the good things happening in that community,” Wardlaw said.

Goal setting

The hiring of a full-time director was one of several goals that the chamber set for itself last year while developing a program of work for the organization and dividing its members into specialized committees to concentrate on particular community goals or problems.

Wardlaw said one if his many goals as director is to make businesses and community leaders in all parts of county feel as though they can benefit through the chamber as well as have the chamber benefit through them.

Some of Wardlaw’s duties will include helping to create a comprehensive development plan, coordinating the annual Bodock Festival, wooing commercial and industrial prospects and meeting with city and county public officials on various aspects of public policy that affect the business climate from housing to road and highway construction to the creation of new industrial park space.

Patterson said having a full-time director will help not only with building membership and industrial recruitment, but also with meeting the needs of existing industry and business in the county.

“It doesn’t do us any good to bring in a new industry or business in the front door if one of our old established industries is leaving out the back,” Patterson said.

One of the first projects Wardlaw will undertake is a Leadership Pontotoc organizational retreat at Lake Pickwick. The goal of Leadership Pontotoc is to build leadership, communication and work skills among the county’s volunteer leaders and then use those skills to focus on high priority projects or problems.

Wardlaw said the leadership teams of two to four people will work on a project for seven months then gather again to evaluate their success.

Opportunities galore

Wardlaw said the county has many very strong selling points in its favor. Not only do both the city and county have excellent public schools and a quickly growing population, but projects such as the Corridor V highway project promise a good environment for growth and expansion.

In fact, he of the major challenges facing the county is keeping pace with these unaccustomed growth spurts. The areas of housing development and transportation growth and utility service expansion need particular attention, he said.

“Pontotoc County is a good place to live,” Wardlaw said. “I think the word is officially out.”

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