January 29, 2014 9:51:42 AM
In September 2012, elected officials in Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties and senior staff with what was then known as the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK announced a two-phase plan to establish the Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority.
The agreement was designed to utilize a teaming of the three counties as a means of making the Golden Triangle the most attractive region in Mississippi for economic development.
Shortly after the announcement, the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK became the Golden Triangle Development LINK. The name change was part of the first phase.
The second phase called for official establishment of the GTRDA this year through legislation to be introduced during this year's Mississippi Legislature session.
LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins confirmed that he met Monday with the regional steering committee formed to oversee the transition.
"I think we're ready to go to the next level," Higgins said. "I think we've got a plan of action. After we meet with elected officials and go over the plan with them, we'll speak (with local civic organizations) in all three towns and make presentations on what people can expect and how it will work."
More information has not yet been made public, but Higgins said a formal announcement can be expected in the coming weeks.
The steering committee has been working the last several months on the timeline and how the permanent economic development association will be structured. There will be some differences between that structure and what was initially discussed in 2012, Higgins said, but whether the forthcoming announcement will involve legislation, and when it might be introduced, is still being evaluated this time.
"While it will have some of the similarities of the proposed GTRDA there will be some aspects of it that will be different based on the knowledge we've gained the last two years working in West Point and year working with Starkville," Higgins said.
He added that the transition has been made "infinitely easier" with the success the LINK has had bringing economic development deals during the interim phase. During that time, the LINK has worked with West Point, Clay County and the Mississippi Development Authority as well as state legislators to bring a Yokohama Tire plant there, which will make way for 2,000 jobs by 2023.
LINK and Lowndes County supervisors inked a deal last May to bring CalStar, a sustainable material manufacturing company, to construct a plant there which will result in an increase of ad valorem revenues and overall assessed values there.
The interim organization also worked with C Spire to agree on setting up a data processing facility at Mississippi State University's Thad Cochran Research Park to be completed later this year.
Numerous large-scale, tax increment financing retail projects have broken ground in Columbus and Starkville.
Also unknown currently about the permanent development group is how much financial support each governing entity and economic development association in the cities and counties will provide.
The steering committee consists of Lowndes representatives Gordon Flowers, who is chair of the LINK's executive committee, and Jim McAlexander. Oktibbeha representatives include Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, supervisor Marvel Howard and Oktibbeha County Economic Development Agency President Jack Wallace. West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson and West Point Clay County Community Growth Alliance President Jackie Edwards represent Clay County on the committee.
Details on the organizational structure of Columbus' Chamber of Commerce, which also operates under the LINK umbrella, will be made public during the forthcoming announcement as well, Chamber Vice President Macaulay Whitaker said. Each city's chamber has been operating independent of, but in support for, each other since the partnership began. That will not change going forward, Whitaker said. However, there's little else known about how the Chamber will change other than the fact that it will no longer be under the umbrella of the LINK or the development authority the LINK becomes.
"The goal of what the chamber is in the near future as we get closer to the end of this fiscal year is we are going to maximize our opportunities to really strengthen the chamber as its own entity separate from its existing brand," Whitaker said.
The chamber currently accounts for about 23.5 percent of the LINK's budget. Other funding sources include appropriations from Columbus and Lowndes County as well as dues from about 500 members.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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