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County to address LINK, Communiversity requests today

 

Carl Smith

 

Oktibbeha County supervisors are expected to sign a new agreement for economic development services with the Golden Triangle Development LINK Monday, thereby continuing a two-year relationship with the organization and opening the door for potential city and county bond issuances for a new industrial park and funding pledges for a tri-county workforce development center. 

 

Starkville aldermen approved their end of the contract Tuesday, and Greater Starkville Development Partnership's umbrella of organizations, including the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, also previously committed to the deal. The three entities will give the LINK a combined $350,000 for economic development enticement, while four Oktibbeha County representatives will serve on the LINK's board of directors. Two of those representatives will also serve on the organization's executive committee. 

 

West Point selectmen unanimously renewed their city's contract earlier this month, while Starkville Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins and Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn balked at the motion Tuesday.  

 

With the contract in place, supervisors can then tend to a LINK funding request that would construct an almost-$40 million facility in Lowndes County that will increase East Mississippi Community College's workforce development opportunities for the Golden Triangle. 

 

Funding for the facility will come from a combination of tri-county support and state and federal grants. While inking their own economic development deal with the LINK earlier this month, Lowndes County supervisors committed $666,666 per year across 15 years of debt service -- $10 million, roughly - for the project. Clay County leaders made a similar commitment -- $1 million, or $66,666 per year for 15 years. 

 

Economic development officials want Oktibbeha County to chip in $2.5 million for the project, and discussion on the topic should follow once supervisors approve the county's LINK contract. A number of LINK officials, including consultant Malcolm Portera, Oktibbeha County representative Joey Deason and Higgins, are expected to be in attendance today. 

 

Discussions could also turn to $10 million in combined city and county bonds for a new Miss. Highway 25 industrial park. 

 

The LINK has 326 acres of combined parcels near the thoroughfare's Miss. Highway 182 bypass under option until November 2015 and would need the funds for acquisition, due diligence studies and infrastructure improvements.  

 

Combined, the new site is expected to offer more than 1 million square feet in facility space. 

 

County supervisors and city aldermen must push forward their respective $5 million bond plans approved earlier this year and held for major economic development packages.  

 

A new site is needed, officials say, because Oktibbeha County does not currently possess shovel-ready sites. OCEDA gave away its last parcel of land in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park last year to C Spire, while the LINK helped facilitate the arrival of a filing products manufacturer to property adjacent to George M. Bryan Airport. Cornerstone Park, located south of the Miss. Highway 25 and Miss. Highway 12 bypass, struggles with marketability issues due to electric shortcomings. 

 

While 4-County Power Association previously forecasted a possible electric load increase at Cornerstone in 2017, LINK officials say waiting for a possibility will hurt the county's chances at economic enticement. 

 

"Starkville has not succeeded in the past, in my opinion, because it has not had any products to sell, it has not had any leadership to sell them and it hasn't had the vision. It's a recognized fact. We're hoping to correct all three of those with this project," Higgins said after unveiling the industrial park's plans in June. "Everyone wants to ask, 'Why can't we get what Columbus is getting or what Clay County is getting?' You're not even set up to be in that arena, and we're going to change it." 

 

If bonds are approved by both the city and county, the industrial project could enter its design phase by late summer or early fall, Higgins said last month. 

 

Supervisors are scheduled to meet 5:30 p.m. today at the county courthouse.

 

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch

 

 

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