Panolian Editorial

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Let Partnership handle economic development

About a decade ago a funding device was developed by local and state elected officials, economic developers and local businessmen who were actively involved in industrial recruitment and economic development in Panola County and Mississippi. The payment in lieu of property taxes from the then-proposed LS Power Plant would be distributed between several entities, including the Panola Partnership.

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The overall plan also included a $25 million project paid for with state money to construct a large water line from Enid Dam to the proposed power plant. That pipeline now belongs to the City of Batesville — with no direct costs to local taxpayers.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity put together by forward thinking leaders who were familiar with economic development, the late Leonard Morris, then-Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and J. C. Burns among them. Political capital was spent, deals were made, and Batesville and Panola County have benefited immensely.

The Partnership is a non-profit corporation governed by a board of directors elected from its membership and operated under a stringent set of by-laws. The directors represent a cross-section of the county’s business and professional people who volunteer to try to provide visionary direction for the county’s economic development.

Funding for the operation of Partnership comes primarily from Panola County and the City of Batesville and to a lesser extent the City of Sardis and from member dues. These funds support a paid professional staff that has made Panola County the envy of the state.

A review of Panola Partnership’s recent successes includes new industries and commitments — Steelmatic in Sardis, the pending Toyoda Gosei plant in the old Moog building, Anderson Technologies. The Partnership has also assisted in expansions at Thermos, Serta, United Solutions, Framed Picture Enterprise, Inca Pallets and the Parker Hannifin expansion announced this week. It has also assisted with retail development that has brought Tractor Supply, Walgreens and Love’s Truck Stop to the county. That’s a total of $200 million in new investment and 700 additional jobs during the last 24 months.

And that’s just a partial list of Partnership successes. The organization has proved to be a constructive bridge-builder between the north and south parts of the county. It has assisted with efforts to celebrate the county’s culture and institutions.

But even with such a proven track record the Partnership has lately come under criticism by some elected and appointed officials who don’t seem to understand how the Partnership was created, how it works nor do they appreciate the unique opportunity that local, county and state leaders seized on to create the organization.

During the years since its creation, the Partnership has been able to move quickly when incentives are needed to convince representatives of industry to locate in Panola County. Often, reimbursement for these expenses comes back to the Partnership later through state programs, but the ability to step in and provide incentives immediately instead of after a belated grant application process has made a crucial difference that has put Panola County ahead of other sites competing for the industry.

Partnership officials can also sign the confidentiality agreements so important to representatives of business and industry who worry about competitors learning of expansion plans prematurely.

But most important is that the Partnership has been able speak with one voice for the cities and counties of Panola. The current quibbling over the Partnership’s operation threatens that unity and casts discouraging dispersions on the volunteers who serve as Partnership directors and devote hours to improving the quality of life in this county.

Brings to mind the admonition: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

And it also spawns the thought that if you let politicians take over economic development, you get a Rolando Foods. If you let the professionals do their job, you get a GE Aviation.