Oktibbeha County delays may put new Link behind schedule

October 18, 2012 11:30:51 AM



STARKVILLE -- The Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority is still in its early stages, but the proposed tri-county coalition may already be behind schedule, even if just by a day or two. 


The delay is attributed to developments in Oktibbeha County and the city of Starkville. Not one of the four entities slated to contribute to the coalition have signed contracts necessary to begin advertising for an economic developer for Starkville/Oktibbeha County. 


On Tuesday night, the Starkville Board of Aldermen tabled a request by Joe Higgins, Columbus-Lowndes Development Link CEO, for a two-year interim contract with the city, county, the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. 


With Lowndes and Clay counties already on board, Higgins said he had scheduled to have both the aldermen and the board of supervisors sign their contracts earlier this week when the boards held their last meetings for the month.  


If the contracts are not signed until the next set of meetings, scheduled for the first Monday and Tuesday in November, the goal of getting an economic developer in by the end of January may not be feasible. 


"We did a four-month process for West Point, but it was hard," Higgins said. "So I won't say every day, every week counts, like it's a deal stopper, because it's not. But every day and week that goes by puts us a little farther behind." 


District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard, who has been part of the steering committee for the GTRDA, said the board will sign its contract at its next meeting. 


"The board has discussed it, and we had all intentions of carrying it through," Howard said. "We just failed to put it on the agenda." 


But more than one of the aldermen seemed to have reservations concerning the contract, possibly causing the board to table the matter. 


Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk presented Higgins with several questions, mostly concerning the assets for development she sees in Lowndes and Clay, but not in Starkville. Sistrunk also said that she was worried the coalition would be just another government layer, especially when OCEDA and the GSDP were supposed to be filling this void from the beginning. 


"Let's be honest, there are things that are in places like Lowndes and Clay that can't be duplicated here," Sistrunk said. "The megasite, the river and rail transportation...some of those things were critical to the success and are going to be difficult to replicate in Starkville." 


Higgins agreed with Sistrunk, but pointed to the university and the Thad Cochran Research Park as examples of the assets Starkville and Oktibbeha County have on their side. He said, as with each city and county, a game plan will have to be made. 


"The things you point out about Starkville are the way many places are," he said. "I think what you have to do, you have to assess your talent; what you do well and what you don't do well, and exploit what you do well to the nth degree." 


The contracts call for all four entities to collectively contribute $350,000 a year to the new coalition, which is touted by Higgins as the most efficient route to economic development. 


Now, Higgins said he hopes the aldermen and board will call special meetings in order to sign the contracts. If not, he will be there on Nov. 5-6, hopefully to see the contracts signed. 


"I think there are a couple of options here," Higgins said. "We are going to get the steering committee together to debrief next week."