May 16, 2014 10:59:18 AM
The most recent study done on behalf of the Golden Triangle Development Link by POLICOM Corporation was presented on Tuesday morning at EMCC. The Dispatch offered an insightful editorial on the critical finding about education and the opportunities this requires from the people who care deeply about our region and our future.
There was also a recommendation on what must be done to increase economic viability in Starkville and Oktibbeha County. The quote was "initiate a quality-of-life program for the Starkville area." That discussion has been raging for all of the last two administrations and during the first year of the current one. What standard do we chose? What are the goals and who are the people we want to attract? Do we believe that we are all that and a bag of chips and don't need to change, or do we recognize where we are lacking and set about making it better?
This report didn't pull any punches when it came to talking about Oktibbeha County, though it would have been less distracting and more credible had they not misspelled Oktibbeha off and on throughout the document. Distilling it down to the essence of the report was that Oktibbeha and Starkville need to step up their game with investments in land for research companies and amenities for their employees.
The report also suggested that our view of Starkville, if seen through the eyes of those we are trying to attract, is rosier than is warranted. Without rail and water assets, Oktibbeha and Starkville must focus on our intellectual potential that flows through the University. We cannot be an apologist for why we score so low on the academic charts, we must be the catalyst that creates an expectation of academic achievement and excellence.
Those high-technology and high-wage companies and their employees have standards we must incorporate into our package for relocations and startups. Our competition is Austin, Texas; Greenville, S.C. and Durham, N.C. not Oxford and Ridgeland and Madison. We need to understand that when we are attempting to recruit high technology and research companies to our area quality of life issues are at or near the front of the package for the employees who are expected to come here. Not many of those who work for high-tech companies will be in or from this region. Will they want to come to live in Starkville?
If we don't capitalize on the University and the research park concept we will be doomed to watch as the jobs and thus the economic boon jobs bring sit less than 25 miles away. Though a good portion of the region's employees come to live and play in Starkville, without the other leg of the three-legged stool that includes work, we are still without the strongest economic value possible.
We must have the financial return from the commercial side of a business in order to afford support for the citizens who live here. We need ad valorem taxes from businesses that have invested in land and machinery and equipment in order to provide those services fundamental to cities like police and fire. Determining what we must do to bring our target industries to Starkville is important if we want to grow. If we don't want to be more than who we are then that is an entirely different scenario that should be honestly confronted and communicated. We should stop wasting city time and money on economic development and embrace our identity as it currently exists.
Growth and development requires commitment from community leaders, government officials and voters. It requires time and money invested in education, resources and self-awareness. It takes effort to become more than who you are. I believe Starkville is worth all of that. Over the years I have watched our community leaders shift positions from believing Starkville is just as we want it to be to wanting and believing in more and greater. I think that we are ready for that full on commitment of time and funds and energy.
What is disappointing is the lack of commitment from the Starkville Board of Aldermen who did not show up for the briefing of the elected officials on Monday. Only Scott Maynard, Alderman, Ward 5 was there. I know that Alderman Walker was out of town, but what was the excuse for the two who do not work and those who are self employed. This looks particularly bad when all of the Oktibbeha County Supervisors were there. When it is important, when you have a vision and when you are ready to embrace change and move forward, you show up.