MDA assessment

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons introduces Joy Foy, director of the Asset Development Division of the Mississippi Development Authority. Foy spoke last week at Batesville City Hall, explaining the findings of an MDA team who visited Panola County last summer to identify and assess the community’s top assets. The Panolian photo by Rita Howell

Study: industries, locale among best of Batesville

By Rita Howell

A team from the Mississippi Development Authority last week met with local citizens to report on their asset mapping visit to Panola County last August. The team had spent two days working with the Panola Partnership to identify the community’s strengths and weaknesses and consider ways to leverage the identified assets to improve the local environment.

The report was presented in Batesville last Wednesday by Joy Foy, director of MDA’s Asset Development Division. Foy focussed on what the team had identified as Batesville’s top three assets: the town’s location, the reputation of South Panola schools and the national champion football team, and the Batesville industrial park.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

MDA representatives gave reports in Sardis and Como on Thursday, evaluating those communities’ assets.

The Batesville meeting was held at city hall and attended by about 15 people, among them city and county officials and representatives from local businesses and industries.

“There’s lots for you to feel proud about in your town,” Foy said. “You can feel the pride here.”

The MDA report attributes Batesville’s location, with immediate access to Interstate 55, as a major factor in why the town’s economy has thrived even in the recession.

Foy asked the crowd, “what would make people get off the interstate at your town?”

Answering her own question, she suggested that the cleanliness of Batesville’s public restrooms could have a direct affect on whether travelers decide to stay here and eat and shop (thus boosting the local economy) or just move on down the road.

She took the pit-stop example a step further and suggested that knowledgeable and friendly employees at convenience stores and fast food restaurants near the interstate could also influence visitors to extend their stay, find other points of interest in the community, or to consider a return visit later.

“The way you are treated is what you remember,” Foy said.

She suggested customer service training for “front-line” employees in restaurants and convenience stores.

South Panola spotlight

“Your football team is known across the U.S.,” Foy told the group, indicating why the team picked the local school system as one of the town’s top assets.

She suggested tracking the players after high school to document their success in college and beyond. Having a documented record of success could help dispel the stigma of poor academic preparation sometimes attached to athletes.

A South Panola Alumni Association could be organized, she said, to draw former students together to give back to the school and community. The group could sponsor a mentoring program to help prepare South Panola students to be successful at the college level.

Foy’s report stated that nearly half of NFL players come from small towns. Batesville, she said, has the potential of becoming home to an enormous number of high paid NFL athletes.

Industrial strength

Foy cited successful industrial recruitment efforts in Batesville as giving the town an economic edge.

“(Panola Partnership CEO) Sonny Simmons knows how to use state programs,” Foy said.

“I couldn’t come up with anything he wasn’t already doing.”

The MDA report indicated that 800 new jobs were created last year in Panola County, and called the Batesville industrial parks “very impressive.”

The report praises the available land for new industry and the mix of businesses like the driver’s license office and the airport near the park on Highway 35 North.

At the conclusion of her talk, Foy handed the complete report to Mayor Jerry Autrey and distributed shorter summaries to those in attendance at the meeting.

She encouraged the group to consider the suggestions, develop plans and get in touch with the MDA for help.