By William Browning
WATER VALLEY – Unlike others, Yalobusha County has no website to promote itself with.
That’s just one of the things that Frank Short, the manager of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Northwest Regional Office, discussed recently when asked about the Yalobusha Economic Development Foundation’s push for a countywide economic director. Not having something as unforced as a website is a strike against you, Short said. And something a fulltime director could get done.
“It’s safe to say, for example, that if a county doesn’t have one online spot where possible industries can look, then that county is not even on the radar,” said Short, who manages 20 counties under the MDA’s Northwest Regional Office umbrella.
With county supervisors – at their next meeting on July 2 – apparently set to address the issue of funding a fulltime, countywide economic director position, Short said that he sees “no cons whatsoever” when it comes to a county creating that position.
“As far as (the MDA) goes, when we had inquiries about the county, or had a project we were working on, if we wanted to get some information, we would have one specific person to contact,” said Short, who is based in Greenwood. “I mean, that right there is a plus.
“But with one person dedicated to economic development, as opposed to a group of volunteers, they would have the chance to develop relationships with the right people, take advantage of specific training opportunities, and so on.
“I don’t see any negatives. I think it’s great,” he added.
“All of those surrounding counties – Grenada, Lafayette, Panola – they all have people in this position,” Short continued. “You’ve got to start competing.”
Whether or not this county has been “competing” can be debated, but while other counties – Lee, Lowndes and Panola – have seen Governor Haley Barbour grinning in front of Toyota, Peterbilt and General Electric groundbreakings, Yalobusha County squabbles over where economic development money should be spent.
“You have to work together, not only within your own county, but with neighboring counties,” said Short. “And as far as that goes, it’s an old cliché, but a rising tide floats all boats.”
As far as the job itself, Short says a potential candidate for the position “needs to be a good sales person,” among many other things.
“The main thing is they need to be able to learn, and always be open to improving,” he continued. “You’ve got to build your networks.”
Brian Richard, director of the Economic Development Resource Center’s graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi, says that the position varies from county to county.
“Every area is different,” said Richard. “Some areas focus on recruiting companies to bring in jobs; others look more at community development – that is, improving quality of life.”
Richard went on to say that in his mind, Yalobusha County – and north Mississippi as a whole – has many recruiting opportunities that need to be harnessed.
Short, in his interview, spelled out some of those opportunities.
“(Yalobusha County) has an interstate running through it, you’ve got a huge positive in the Tennessee Valley Authority, you’ve got the proximity to Oxford, you’ve got good existing industry such as BorgWarner, and then the new Toyota plant being built nearby,” said Short.