By Bill Crawford
Just 15 months after they affiliated with his highly successful development team, Joe Max Higgins landed major Japanese tire manufacturer, Yokohama, and hundreds of high paying jobs for unemployment ravaged West Point and Clay County.
Friday, the Legislature approved a $130 million investment package plus millions in tax abatements for the project. “This is an historic day for Mississippi,” said Gov. Phil Bryant, “and we are proud to welcome this world-leader in tire manufacturing to our great state. The passing of this legislation will result initially in 500 new jobs, with the potential to create up to 2,000 total jobs, and it will have a positive impact on the state’s economy for years to come.”
It was a year ago January that West Point and Clay County made the decision to turn over economic development efforts to the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK managed by Higgins.
“The LINK has had the kind of success that we want our county to experience,” Jackie Edwards, president of the West Point-Clay County Growth Alliance, said at the time. That success was $4.4 billion in investments and 5,600 jobs created in Lowndes County over a five-year period and included companies such as Severstal, American Eurocopter, PACCAR, Stark Aerospace, Aurora Flight Services, and KiOR.
“We decided that with their proven track record and similarities between our two communities, we should make a proposal to join forces instead of searching for a new executive director,” said Edwards.
Six months ago Starkville and Oktibbeha County made a similar decision, signing a three year agreement with the LINK. Higgins says he already has a major prospect looking at Starkville and his team is working to identify new development sites in the area.
Meanwhile, the LINK renamed itself the Golden Triangle Regional Development LINK and expanded its board of directors to better reflect its new footprint. But, a more significant change is envisioned.
“We will propose legislation to the Mississippi Legislature to create the Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority,” said Higgins. “This will be a new organization that will replace the GTR Development LINK. It will become the permanent organization responsible for recruiting and doing all the things associated with landing business and industry in the three counties.” The LINK executive committee is charged with accomplishing this final transition.
TVA, the North Mississippi Industrial Development Authority, and MDA encouraged local leaders to pursue a regional approach.
“This … is a new beginning of regionalism that will ensure a smart future for our area,” said Jim McAlexander, past chairman of the LINK board. “Together we will become stronger as we capitalize on a larger economic base, more diversified assets and the resulting economies of scale we create.”
Going regional is hard for local officials. Good to see it paying off.
BILL CRAWFORD (email@example.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.