Recent good economic development news hasn’t happened by chance

Published 6:10 pm Saturday, August 25, 2018

“No man is an island.” — English poet John Donne

Friday’s announcement of Unified Brands’ decision to expand its manufacturing capabilities by opening a facility in Vicksburg that will employ about 425 people here is very welcome news.

In the last 90 days, 642 jobs at three facilities have been announced here.

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That didn’t happen by accident. Leaders of companies didn’t suddenly notice Vicksburg and decide to locate here.

About two years ago, a series of events took place that led to the economic development success we are seeing now.

First, Wayne Mansfield, who at the time was executive director of the Vicksburg Warren County Port Commission, chose to take a job as economic development director in Longview, Texas.

At about the same time, Jane Flowers, who was executive director of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce, decided to retire.

The idea of several groups joining together to support economic development had been tossed around for some time, but wasn’t getting much traction.

Flowers pulled aside Mark Buys, president of BancorpSouth’s Vicksburg division and on the chamber’s board, and told him it may be the right time to look at coming together for economic development.

Buys got with Margaret Gilmer, president of the port commission, who coincidentally had been thinking along those same lines since Mansfield’s departure.

Many agree the most effective time of economic development here took place many years ago when the city and county worked together in that effort.

Buys and Gilmer approached Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs and Richard George, president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, with their idea. They gave the structure a thumbs up.

The port commission, the city, and the private Vicksburg Warren County Economic Development Foundation would team up to recruit a Blue Chip person to lead economic development.

We have Gilmer to thank for spotting Pablo Diaz and launching the effort to recruit him to Vicksburg. And we almost didn’t get him. Others were after Diaz, and Vicksburg was almost too late to the game.

And, while Diaz was originally recruited to be director of the port commission, he wound up with three jobs. He’s also executive director of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce, and executive director of the Vicksburg Warren County Economic Development Foundation. All three work together under the umbrella of The Partnership, of which Diaz is president and CEO.

What a bargain the people of Vicksburg and Warren County got in the form of Pablo Diaz.

No, company leaders didn’t begin noticing us by chance. They are noticing us now because of Pablo Diaz and the forethought of a group of private business, government and civic leaders who love Vicksburg and Warren County and who are willing to do what it takes in today’s market to call attention to our area and to put together incentive packages worthy of bringing jobs here.

When Diaz began his work in Vicksburg, several of his former employers in the Grenada area, where he worked as economic development leader, reached out to this newspaper with letters and comments about what he meant to that area.

“We knew this time was eventually going to come, as we have seen Pablo excel in leading our community to new heights in terms of economic development readiness and success,” said Keith Mitchell, chairman of the Grenada County Economic Development District. “Under Pablo’s leadership, our community has gained a never before achieved stature with state and national economic development stakeholders and has become one of the fiercest and most reputable economic competitors in the state.”

Diaz is well on his way to doing that for Vicksburg and Warren County, as evidenced by the job creation announced in the last 90 days here.

But it’s been a rough road. Diaz and others who are working to bring jobs and investment here have had to clear hurdles made up of antiquated mindsets and obstacles that in the past have caused others to give up.

Glenn McCullough, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said at Friday’s announcement, “This is only the beginning. In future years, people will look back upon this time as the golden years of Vicksburg and Warren County.”

Thank you, Margaret Gilmer. Thank you, Mark Buys. Thank you, Jane Flowers. Thank you, all investors in the Vicksburg Warren County Economic Development Foundation.

Thank you, Mayor George Flaggs Jr., who stepped up to the plate in a big way when it looked like we weren’t going to be able to make the Unified Brands project happen.

Thank you, Pablo Diaz, for your dogged determination to win, your vision of how bright the future can be in Vicksburg and Warren County, and for leading us in that direction.

We’re on our way.