Opinion – 1/24/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Panolian: OPINIONS

 From the 1/24/06 issue of The Panolian :                 
Panola needs long-range plan

A supposed strategy of political campaigning is to run for public office like you’re trailing your opponent – even when you’re ahead.

That sure seems like a negative way to make progress, but visualizing where you don’t want to be on election day, or in life, can motivate a person.

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Maybe Panola County needs to do that as well: look 10 years and 20 years into our future with the idea that the future of our community should resemble the bustling cities to our east or north and not the struggling towns to our west.

And there is a clear difference.

State figures from the Miss. Department of Employment and Security show Tate and Lafayette counties showed population increases from 1990 to 2000 while Quitman and Coahoma counties showed decreases in their numbers.

Tate and Lafayette also lead in the number of new businesses, boasting 44 new establishments from 2003 to 2004 compared to a loss of 30 establishments in Quitman and Coahoma.

(Lafayette County leads all four counties with 41 new businesses).

Where does Panola County fit?

State figures show the land "where the Delta meets the hills" is situated squarely in the middle of our neighbors on all sides, boasting 11 new businesses in 2004 and a population boost of 14.3 percent from 1990 to 2000.

The average annual wage in 2004 was $24,959 in Panola County, about $3,000 below the state average of $28,004, behind our eastern neighbors and ahead of our western neighbors.

Yet another interesting figure is that Panola County leads all four counties in manufacturing jobs, 23.1 percent compared to the next highest number, 16.9 percent, in Tate County.

Compared to 25 counties in north Mississippi, Panola County’s new businesses rank us No. 7 while the annual income ranks us at No. 14.

What makes Panola’s figures seem really impressive is that we’re cruising along like a carefree candidate who’s not really committed to the race.

We don’t have a game plan yet we’re still in the game, and what team can continue to win without a plan?

Some may disagree, of course, arguing that a long-range plan is unnecessary since Panola has been coasting along during recent years and is still growing.

And that’s right. The problem with coasting, however, is that momentum ultimately winds down.

So let’s stop coasting. This year our leaders in government, business and industry need to map out a plan to prepare us for the future.

Former Panola Partnership director Blair Jernigan often pleaded his case for a strategic plan, emphasizing the need for a community-wide effort.

If a plan is in place, he said, it would move forward regardless of who is director of the Partnership, mayor of Batesville or in other positions of leadership.

One key to a successful plan is the Partnership itself, the quasi-government office that recruits industries, operates as the chamber of commerce, and oversees Batesville Main Street.

Considering the large percentage of manufacturing jobs in Panola County, many would be surprised to learn that the Partnership depends on one person, Sonny Simmons, and his small staff to do the recruiting and retention work that is crucial to maintaining our economic vitality.

By just supporting the Partnership through additional funding, manpower or a membership drive, our community can show a determination to pedal much faster into the future.

If some government report could explain the decline of the Delta, somewhere in the pages of facts and figures is the opinion that the leaders and laymen got comfortable and lazy.

Panola County seems quite comfortable at the moment. This year we will learn if we’re lazy, too.



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