Economic strategic plan enters new phase
Published 8:07 pm Saturday, January 20, 2018
When Pablo Diaz became the new economic development director in April of 2017, he had a vision of the possibilities of turning Vicksburg and Warren County into an area of greatness.
He brought with him experience and exuberance that is still evident nearly a year later.
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“We have to understand we are going to have a vision and it’s going to be strong and attractive enough that we want to take risks for it and we want to make investments for it,” Diaz said at the time.
To get to that point requires change and a strategic plan.
Melding the Economic Development Foundation, Port Commission and Chamber of Commerce into “The Partnership” was the first step with Diaz and a nine-member board leading the way.
The next step is developing a strategy for attracting, creating and developing businesses and jobs in the community.
In November, VisionFirst Advisors, led by former executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority Gray Swoope, was hired to direct the strategic planning process and plan. Its primary objective is to create a community strategy that will clarify common objectives and outline an action plan for implementation.
Diaz said VisionFirst will “help us design a roadmap for our future.
“Vicksburg-Warren County is at a point of great opportunity to leverage our assets and better define where we want to go in the future,” Diaz said. “We must think beyond Vicksburg and beyond Mississippi, to position our community for greater success and economic prosperity for our residents.”
Diaz is hopeful this process will be completed in May or June with VisionFirst conducting interviews with local stakeholders, gathering local feedback and input from the community with an online survey at surveymonkey.com/r/VWcommunitysurvey.
“The point is to really listen to the community and be able to say ‘we understand our community and stakeholders’ and then find out what the recommendations are from the consultants,” Diaz said.
The strategic plan is intended to identify how the broader community defines economic development success, and will provide a clear course of action, milestones and measures.
“Vicksburg-Warren County has made bold steps forward in its willingness to work collaboratively across organizations. Such teamwork is critical to sustainable economic growth,” Swoope said.
The VisionFirst team met with local officials in December to align expectations and outcomes in the creation of a community-wide economic development strategy. VisionFirst will return this week to continue the process of information gathering. Diaz said there are 30-plus meetings planned with VisionFirst as they interview officials, businesses and industries one-on-one.
“In this second round is the discovery process in which all the industries, all the stakeholders, anyone in the community has an opportunity to provide input,” Diaz said. “All that input can be brought into that base along with leadership’s vision and descriptions of what they think economic development is and balance all that information into what the community thinks they want.”
He said information will allow VisionFirst to have a benchmark of what the community wants, but economic trends and data could change that, according to Diaz.
“It’s really all discovery right now,” Diaz said. “As stakeholders, we all think we know what this community needs to be so we will be testing that to data and reality to defining what we should really be doing according to all those variables.”
Although he has never worked with the VisionFirst team, Diaz has experience of going through this process and is interested to see how it is developed here.
“I know and trust the people that will help us,” Diaz said. “They’re very bright people and I have worked with them in other capacities.”
He said the community has embraced the idea of developing an economic strategy.
“I think everyone realizes this is an important process,” Diaz said. “We needed to have done this before and this is a good time to do this. It’s always a good time to strategize and plan before you take action and I think we see a willingness from the county and city to engage in the process.”
Diaz thinks the end goal for developing the economic strategic plan is to find a direction for the community.
“Our main goal is to really find the North Star for economic development for our community,” Diaz said. “And to discover any opportunities that are looming out there that no one has a clue about.”
Diaz would also like to see the community break the mold of the “same-old, same-old.
“We have a certain sense of our strengths and weaknesses in terms of what we have and what we can create with that,” Diaz said. “But there are technologies under development right now that are going to be hitting the market; all these different technologies that are coming into new code and research and development and computing. We are terribly interested in understanding because of ERDC, because of all the things we have. Is there an angle that we can play to be in front and taking advantage of those changes that will come rather than being a victim of those changes?”
Diaz said change is constant, hard and important for the community and this strategic plan offers the opportunity to review and also take bold steps.
“We’re perfectly comfortable with the idea that we might discover initiatives and strategies that are ahead of the entire state,” Diaz said. “I think we could lead the state in the creation of industry or jobs in niches the state has not gone all the way.”