Private arm of The Partnership instrumental in economic development

Published 7:12 pm Saturday, May 5, 2018

Creating economic development is the goal of Pablo Diaz, the executive director of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce and Warren County Port Commission, but those two entities cannot do it alone.

That’s where the Warren County Economic Development Foundation comes in. The EDF is the private arm of “The Partnership” that includes the chamber and port commission, which are both public entities.

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“The goal of the EDF is to support and advance the economic development agenda in Vicksburg and Warren County,” Diaz said. “They help make sure we have the tools for long-term planning and economic development; to support the work of The Partnership and to make sure this is truly a public-private initiative to move our community forward. At some point, if a community is to succeed beyond its normal, ongoing natural stage, the private sector has to step up to the plate and provide that leadership.”

When Diaz took over the reins of economic development in Warren County just over a year ago, the EDF had three or four investors – individuals and businesses who ante up their own money to be used for economic development purposes. Since then, the EDF has grown to 16 investors and is about to add four or five more, according to Diaz.

The investors are a diverse group of industries, banks, businesses and individuals with four investment levels – Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum – within the EDF.

Steve Golding, who owns and operates Golding Barge Line, has been with the EDF for decades. He said the role of the EDF has come back strong in a time when attracting business and industry has become so competitive.

“I remember the EDF of 20 years ago and this is a new ballgame,” Golding said. “I am very impressed with the direction the EDF is going.”

Golding said 20 years ago, the EDF was an economic development arm to entertain and promote Vicksburg to prospects.

“But now it’s a competitive tool that Vicksburg desperately needs if we’re going to compete with new industry to locate in our community,” Golding said.

Golding said the competitive nature of attracting industry is incredible.

“What’s happening now is we’re competing with other towns and they’re offering incentives to locate there in addition to what the state is offering,” Golding said. “It becomes not only Mississippi competing with states to get big plants in here, but we’re competing with other towns in the state.

“The industries are looking for incentives beyond somebody taking them to dinner and riding them around. They’re looking for financial incentives for construction and development of plant or facility.”

He said the private sector and government sector have got to work together and understand their roles.

“It’s got to be a joint public-private partnership,” Golding said. “It’s got to be the city and county understanding what the EDF is and buying into it.”

Jeff Holland, the former director of ERDC, is the current EDF chairman. He said this is a wonderful time for economic development and the potential in the community is huge with all of the positive aspects happening within the community. But he said it’s time to put that potential to use.

“I think our goal is like potential energy,” the retired engineer said. “You don’t want energy to be potential. You want it to be kinetic and move and work for you.

“This community is a wonderful community now. I’ve been here 40 years and it’s been great to me. But we’re not talking about bad and good in this community. We’re talking about going from good to better to best and we’re trying to build something to go from better to best. The building blocks are here to do that.”

Mark Buys, president of BancorpSouth and past Chamber president, echoed both Golding and Holland in their view of the EDF and the way it has come back stronger than before.

When it comes to attracting new business and industry, incentives become more necessary.

“The playing field has gotten tougher,” Buys said. “We have multiple communities competing with the same prospect, whereas in the past the MDA (Mississippi Development Authority) directed those prospects to communities. It falls on us in the private sector to help make Vicksburg and Warren County more attractive.”

Buys said when he first joined the EDF in the 80s, “it was an economic engine and was powerful.”

He said as time went on, many of those great leaders in the EDF passed on.

“Overtime, it slowed down and was not quite as active as it had been and more of that responsibility has fallen on the public sector,” the former EDF chairman said. “With Pablo in our community, the EDF has been rejuvenated. We need the private sector and business to take leadership roles and marketing our community and it’s happening.”

Diaz some of those investors came out of the blue wanting to join the EDF and make a difference in their community.

“That has been really refreshing,” Diaz said. “They’re doing it because they understand the concept of a true public-private partnership that can hold themselves accountable.”

The EDF funded a quarter of the cost for the strategic plan that will be unveiled next month.

“That was one of the first indicators that the EDF was coming back strong,” Diaz said. “It’s a great example of how the EDF can support economic development.

“We want everyone within the community to understand they can be part of this by joining the EDF.”