March 27, 2013 10:09:26 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - email@example.com
As the spirit of regional cooperation continues to take root, Columbus has new reason to tout itself as the standard-bearer for economic strength within the Golden Triangle.
A decade ago, Columbus ranked 374th out of 576 micropolitans (urbanized areas with a population of more than 10,000 people but fewer than 50,000), but Policom rankings released Monday show a 22-spot leap, carrying the city from a rank of 46 to 24.
Policom, a Palm City, Fla.-based economic research firm, ranks cities based upon 20-year trends in growth rates, consistency, industry averages and other factors.
The past 10 years carry a higher weight in the rankings, which has served Columbus well, said Macaulay Whitaker, vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce division of the Golden Triangle Development Link.
She credited the cooperative efforts of the city and county for the area's increased economic strength, saying the new ranking will become yet another tool in Lowndes County's industrial recruitment arsenal.
"We're inching closer and closer to that top 10," Whitaker said Tuesday. "Our goal at the end of the day is to grow the Golden Triangle."
Success has not come without hard work, said Brenda Lathan, vice-president of economic development for Lowndes County.
And now, economic development experts in Starkville and West Point are hoping that hard work will eventually pay off for their communities.
A tri-county coalition was unveiled in September 2012, with Oktibbeha County, Starkville and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership joining West Point and the West Point-Clay County Growth Alliance in a joint agreement with the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link. Once the ink on the contract was dry, the group began to operate as the Golden Triangle Development Link.
Link CEO Joe Higgins, along with Lathan, has continued to represent Lowndes County's economic development interests, while Ron Maloney and Joey Deason were hired to recruit industry for Clay and Oktibbeha.
But it is too soon for those communities to see the coalition's benefits reflected in their own Policom rankings, Whitaker said.
Starkville dipped from 182 to 190, compared with an all-time high of 54 in 2004, while West Point dropped from 329 -- the highest they have ranked in a decade -- to 369.
Maloney is undaunted by the task ahead.
"I've seen and experienced enough community support , government cohesiveness and positive economic efforts in Clay County that if the community continues on its current path of progress, we can reverse this (Policom) trend," he said via email Tuesday.
Deason pointed out the attributes Oktibbeha County has to offer, namely its abundance of quality of life programs.
"They've added the missing piece of the puzzle in a strong economic development organization," he said in an emailed statement. "We expect those (Policom) numbers to climb very soon."
Oktibbeha County and Starkville, like West Point and Clay County, have signed agreements to pay the Link $350,000 annually for the next three years. In exchange, Deason and Maloney will seek major industries to relocate to each area, and the three counties' assets will be packaged as a whole in an attempt to lure projects they might not be able to attract on their own.
2013 Ten Strongest Micropolitan Areas
1. Concord, NH
2. Helena, MT
3. Lexington Park, MD
4. Williston, ND
5. Watertown-Fort Drum, NY
6. Lebanon, NH-VT
7. Minot, ND
8. Dickinson, ND
9. Barre, VT
10. Paducah, KY-IL
2013 Mississippi Micropolitan Rankings
369. West Point
527. Yazoo City
Carmen K. Sisson is news editor at The Dispatch.