February 5, 2014 10:56:05 AM
A steering committee for the tri-county economic development engine established in 2012 as the Golden Triangle Development LINK has recommended making that entity permanent.
The announcement made by LINK officials Tuesday means the initial plan for Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties to transition from the LINK into a private entity labeled the Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority will not be executed. LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said public and private sector financial commitments needed to form the GTRDA were insufficient. However, LINK officials can continue to reach their goals while saving costs, Higgins said.
"(The LINK) was a stop-gap, interim deal until we could do GTRDA," he said. "But everybody likes the way it's working and we can do it for less money -- public and private -- and have the same results. We're ready to quit talking about reorganizing the organization and start spending some more time working on deals."
Higgins said the capital campaign established in 2007 to boost development efforts known as The Trust has raised about $370,000. That pledge from about 80 businesses spanning the three counties was a little more than half of the $700,000 needed from that campaign to successfully transition into the GTRDA.
Public sector funding was also a factor in the steering committee's recommendation. Local and private legislation that was to be introduced during this year's state legislative session would have called for each of the three counties to levy up to 2 mills to fund the GTRDA unless governments were able to find existing monies. Mill values vary by county, meaning counties with higher mill values would potentially have had to set aside significantly more money than they do now to establish the GTRDA.
A new local and private bill will be introduced to state legislators during next year's session that would allow each of the three counties to agree to ink long-term agreements with the LINK, Higgins said. The bill will ask each county to enter a three- to five-year contract term with escape clauses, offering stability to public LINK funding. State codes currently stipulate that city and county governments cannot enter into contracts longer than four-year terms.
While this bill will be introduced next year, Higgins said the decision to go forward with a long-term partnership will be made before then, and it is anticipated to be effective at the beginning of October.
Though funding for the LINK will come through the county governments, the new bill will allow economic development districts and municipal governments -- including Columbus, Starkville and West Point -- to provide a portion of the funding, Higgins said.
"While we're saying we want to contract at the county level, we're also saying that we would encourage and hope and support the cities and economic development entities to enter into interlocal agreements with those counties to provide a portion of those funds," he said. "The way we're proposing would not result in any net income or net increase in funding for Clay and Oktibbeha county and only a small increase in funding for Lowndes County."
Higgins said he projected that increase to be about $20,000. Lowndes County currently gives the LINK $220,000 per year.
While the LINK's name will not change, there will be staff changes and restructuring within both the LINK and the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce in an effort to improve efficiency, Higgins said.
The position of vice president for governmental affairs, which serves both the chamber and economic development for the LINK, will be eliminated. Mary Cates Williams currently holds that position.
A part-time director of membership programs position will also be eliminated. Elizabeth Casano currently holds that position. She will no longer be working with the LINK in October.
A new position -- vice president of internal and external affairs -- will be created that serves only the LINK.
Positions for a CLCC president and administrative assistant will be filled by the time the CLCC becomes its own entity and branches off from the LINK in October. A receptionist for both the LINK and CLCC will also be hired, Higgins said. The staff restructuring will take effect Oct. 1.
Instead of having county-assigned vice presidents for economic development, Higgins, vice president of economic for Lowndes County Brenda Lathan and LINK chief operations officer and vice president of economic development for Oktibbeha County Joey Deason will now absorb the duties of Ron Maloney, who recently left the LINK after serving in that role for Clay County for a year. Deason will become chief operations officer and Lathan the senior vice president of economic development.
Successfully engaging with Yokohama Tire Company to locate a plant in Clay County played a part in reaching that conclusion, Higgins said.
"Probably what we learned on the Yokohama project is when you work a super project, it's not my project or Brenda's project or Joey's project. It's everybody in the office's project," Higgins said. "What we're proposing is no more specialization but the team concept for economic development. We'll simply go where the project needs to be."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.