Governor gives support to The Concourse

Published 4:15 pm Thursday, January 31, 2019

Says workforce training center would replace possible blight

By Jeremy Weldon

A delegation of local officials met recently with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and secured his support  for The Concourse, a proposed Batesville campus of Northwest Mississippi Community College. Included in the meeting were Mayor Jerry Autrey and several city aldermen and Panola County supervisors.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“It was a good, positive meeting and the Governor is on board with us,” said Autrey. “We just have to get to work on this funding.”

The costs of the project is expected to reach $15-20 million before the area currently housing the Batesville Outlet Mall is converted to a training center that officials believe is vital to attracting and retaining a viable workforce, available for industries looking for areas of expansion.

Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar has spent almost a year building a coalition of state and local lawmakers, business and industry representatives, and education experts in preparation for launching the ambitious plan to convert the near-empty mall into a center that would boost Batesville and Panola County’s place in industrial recruitment regionally.

The city and county have reached a tentative agreement to purchase the property for about $2.6 million. It’s the additional $15 million or so that will be needed to complete the project that presents the next hurdle for Azar and the committee he formed in 2018 to advance the prospect of landing The Concourse.

Key in the funding process will be the input of the Appalachian Regional Commission, without whose support the project would probably come short. The ARC is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government. Established by an act of Congress in 1965, ARC is composed of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair, who is appointed by the president. Local participation is provided through multi-county local development districts.

The Governor has written a letter of support for The Concourse, urging the ARC to make its funding a priority.

“I support The Concourse because it will give industry in that region of North Mississippi a partner in pre-and-post employment training and will provide a pipeline of qualified labor into the future,” Gov. Bryant wrote. “This innovative approach takes a property in danger of becoming blighted and transforms its asset that will train people from the region, including the Delta, for on-demand jobs in the automotive, aerospace, transportation, and advanced manufacturing sectors.”