Starkville and Oktibbeha join regional coalition

November 1, 2012 10:05:03 AM



Starkville and Oktibbeha County have officially entered a three-year interim agreement with the new Golden Triangle Regional Development Link, but not without some haggling and revisions to the contract. 


Oktibbeha joins Lowndes and Clay counties as the final partner in the tri-county economic development coalition, which was spearheaded by Columbus-Lowndes Development Link CEO Joe Max Higgins.  


The Starkville Board of Aldermen and the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors signed the contract during a joint, specially-called meeting Wednesday.  


"We are absolutely thrilled," Higgins said. "We've got everybody back in the house; let's get on with doing business." 


The signing did not come without some hard questions and deliberation over how Starkville and Oktibbeha would measure the success of the partnership. 


District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams insisted that the expectations of the boards be made clear in the contract. 


"Is our goal to develop a mall? Is it to develop some blue collar jobs?" Williams asked. "We really should just establish some benchmarks to accomplish. Like, there needs to be as much economic development taking place in Oktibbeha as there is in Lowndes and Clay." 


But Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk reminded Williams that, as Higgins pointed out at their Oct. 16 meeting, nothing is guaranteed by the contract. District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard said that he felt like the progress, or lack there of, would be easy to see.  


"In three years we might have gone after 10 different projects and landed 10, or we'll go after 10 and land zero," Howard said. "As far as saying you have got to hit mark 'A' in three months, I don't think that is fair. We also want to see the whole Golden Triangle area scores in the next three years." 


There is a one-year evaluation provision in the contract, and Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said he thinks that will be key to examining where the partnership has taken the city and county. Sistrunk added that a quarterly update from the coalition's board would be best.  


But Dumas stressed the importance of community effort as well in making the area presentable to potential clients, something board of supervisors president Orlando Trainer echoed. 


"A lot of what happens depends on us," Trainer said. "The potential is unlimited to me, but just because we enter this agreement and pay the money, we can't just sit back and expect things to come." 


Trainer said Starkville and Oktibbeha have to make a commitment to achieve the expected results. 


Sistrunk, who had the most questions at the aldermen's Oct 16. meeting about the originally proposed two-year contract, said she is much more comfortable with the extra year and hopes the governing bodies take full advantage.  


"I think this is something with great potential," Sistrunk said. "I hope the potential is realized." 


Despite the back and forth, the contract was unanimously authorized by the Greater Starkville Development Partnership and the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Partnership on Monday. 


The contract calls for a total of $350,000 to be paid to the Golden Triangle Regional Development Link each year, with the funds coming from the city, county, OCEDA and the GSDP. 


Higgins said Wednesday he was waiting on official word from the boards to launch the search for an economic developer torecruit economic development specifically for Oktibbeha County.