Thompson pushes marina as economic engine

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 14, 2015

NETWORKING: William Cantrell, left, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center discusses ERDCs requirements for contractors with Toni Loew Bishop at Saturday's Emerging Business Summit at the Vicksburg Auditorium.

NETWORKING: William Cantrell, left, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center discusses ERDCs requirements for contractors with Toni Loew Bishop at Saturday’s Emerging Business Summit at the Vicksburg Auditorium.

For small business to succeed in Vicksburg, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson said, business owners and city officials have to innovative and be ready “to think outside the box.”

And he suggested the perfect vehicle.

“If we had a marina in Vicksburg, we could draw an awful lot to this community,” Thompson, D-Miss., told about 125 people at the city’s Emerging Business Summit Saturday at the Vicksburg Auditorium.

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“If you’ve been to any other city in your travels, anywhere you have water, you have people, you have investment, you have a lot going on. Vicksburg’s got the longest and biggest water in the United States. It’s called the Mississippi River.

He challenged the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Warren County Board of Supervisors to start examining the feasibility of putting a marina along City Front.

“Everywhere you see where water is, there’s development; they’re booming,” he said. “I would encourage you, in terms of the small business growth potential (to develop a marina), and as you plan it, you put small business right in the beginning, because planning requires participation, and if you invite small business participation in the community, you guarantee it in the end.”

Thompson put his support behind the concept, adding he wants the city to seek a U.S. Economic Development Administration planning grant to start the process “of figuring out how we can put additional things on the river other than casinos and make sure those things work.”

“It’s a real, significant asset to your community. One that should be explored,” he said.

Thompson said small, family-owned businesses are a major element that helps communities function.

“Whatever your small business is, it’s an opportunity to share it with the community,” he said, but it takes more than just opening the doors.

“One of the challenges we have is you have to be innovative with small business. Most of the time, cities, counties and other folk are so used to doing business with certain people, they forget about you folk.”

He complemented city officials for working with small business and encouraging small businesses participation, but if they want to help small businesses in the community, “Let’s create a vehicle so you can help them pay for those items that they’re looking for. There are always things we can do.

There are a lot of things to look at.”

That help, Thompson said, can come through incentives that will make people locate their businesses in the city’s business districts.

“It is absolutely important that we keep small business alive,” he said.

“Some cities have created programs. As long we’re not wedded to staying inside the box and willing to go outside the box, we can make things happen,” he said.

“By virtue of this city having this program here today, shows an interest in small business.”

He urged small business owners to look beyond the walls of their businesses to improve.

“You press on, you ask other people for ideas on how I can make my business successful,” he said.

The summit was developed after Mayor George Flaggs Jr. attended a program at Alcorn State University, where students were certified and bonded with the state.

He said the summit was planned so small business owners and minority contractors could learn the process to get bonded and certified, and the process to do business with city, county, state and federal governments.

He said Saturday Yates Construction Co. of Birmingham, Ala., which has the contract to build the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center’s new headquarters building at its campus off Halls Ferry Road, will need about 300 local workers for about two years for the estimated $50 million project.

The city, he said will soon begin construction on its auxiliary waterline and the contractor on the projects will need minority subcontractors to meet the requirement of the Corps grant that helps fund the project. The city is also planning the first phase of it $18 million capital improvements project.

“At the city of Vicksburg, we’re serious about our people getting a piece of this pie,” he said. “This is an opportunity to do business (with the city).

“I hope this day will reflect a commitment from the city of Vicksburg that we are serious about, we want to be able to help you develop your business and help you and assist you and your business and business practices.

I think it’s very important that we educate the people and inform the public.

The Summit featured speakers from the city, ERDC, the Mississippi Development Authority and the city of Jackson who discussed programs and the processes of preparing to do business with their groups.

They had an attentive audience.

Anne Sonnek from Waring Oil was there to learn about other opportunities for her company.

“I want to see how we can keep the contracts we have and lean about other contracts we get,” she said.

“I’m here to learn about what’s available and pick up pointers,” said Toni Lowe Bishop of Vicksburg, who is starting a grant writing business.

Some people were there to see how to help the community and small businesses.

Randy Jones, director of the Mississippi State University’s Institute for Systems Engineering Research, which is working on a joint computer project with ERDC, was looking for ways his program can help the community.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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