By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times
A possible regional economic development organization now includes Montgomery County, in addition to Webster and Choctaw counties.
Oktibbeha County was included in initial discussions about the possibility of forming an alliance with Webster and Choctaw. Officials from the three counties met with Executive Director Rudy Johnson of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District in April to discuss stimulating economic development.
In addition to some supervisors from each county, those attending the meeting in Starkville included Eupora Mayor Tommy Lott and all city aldermen, Mathiston Mayor Jimmy Carden and Mantee Mayor Mary Frances Baker, officials said afterwards.
An exploratory committee formed to research the possibility of an economic development partnership between the counties had its first meeting June 5.
Committee members Pat Cummings and Christ McIntire, presidents of the Webster and Choctaw County boards of supervisors, respectively, met with Mayor Tommy Lott and the Eupora Board of Aldermen on July 16. Lott had asked them to attend the special called meeting to update the city board.
McIntire said he and Cummings do not represent their county boards in a formal capacity but are only an informal steering committee. Lott asked them to appear before the city board to give an update.
Officials acknowledged during the ensuing discussion that Oktibbeha County has dropped out of alliance talks with Webster and Choctaw. Golden Triangle officials announced July 13 that economic development representatives of Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties will submit a partnership proposal by Sept. 14. A steering committee has been formed to explore formation, purpose, governance, administration, funding, duties and implementation, according to the Starkville Daily News.
Cummings and McIntire said Webster and Choctaw counties are now trying to structure a multicounty alliance that would include Montgomery County. The three rural counties are similar and would work well together, they said.
“It’s a perfect fit,” said McIntire, who pointed out that having an alliance would increase representation on the state and federal level if one of the counties lands a project.
Cummings said an alliance would create opportunities to better all three counties and Lott said it would “give us strength and resources.”
McIntire said, “The key to making this thing work is the unity.”
Alderman Dan Burchfield (at large), noting that such an alliance would be a county-driven organization, said, “The municipalities understand that this is a good way and the only way to do (economic development)”
Billy Brister (Ward 2) said, “You’ve got the support of this board.”
McIntire also mentioned the possibility of Webster and Choctaw counties sharing a Chamber of Commerce director. Webster County has had no official economic development organization since the Webster County Development Council was disbanded earlier this year.
The Winona Times reported last week that the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors did vote July 17 to join Webster and Choctaw counties in forming a regional economic development organization.
Nick Walters would head the organization, according to the July 19 article. Walters is former state director of USDA Rural Development and now serves as executive director of the Choctaw County Economic Development Foundation.
Montgomery County Supervisor Ron Wood was quoted as explaining, “This is about industrial-type jobs.” Board President Nelson Forrest said the Board of Supervisors is ultimately responsible for economic development in the county and should do what it can to bring industry.
The article also said that Montgomery County’s cost per year to join the regional organization is $40,000, which is apparently the proposed cost for each of the three counties. Wood, the article states, said he thought the organization would be operational by Oct. 1, when each county’s new fiscal year begins.
Neither the Webster or Choctaw County boards have taken any official action regarding the proposed alliance, officials in each county confirmed earlier this week.