Mayor, business leaders urge high schoolers to come home

Published 7:05 pm Thursday, October 4, 2018

Local officials and business people answered questions from St. Aloysius High School seniors and urged them to return to Vicksburg after college and become part of shaping the city’s future.

Kristi Smith, director of development for Vicksburg Catholic Schools, said the Mayor’s Economic Development Forum was developed from an idea in the school development office.

“We decided that Vicksburg is at such a crossroads right now. We’re either going to become that town we always had the potential to be or we’re not,” she said. “We felt all that’s happening now in Vicksburg needed to be conveyed to our young people. Do they know what economic development is?”

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All the speakers, she said, “Conveyed the message we’re trying to get them to convey beautifully, and I think it really turned out to be a great event.”

She said she hopes the forum will inspire other schools in the area to hold similar forums “where our youth can start understanding what economic development is and what it means for Vicksburg and what’s happening here.”

A seven-member group of Mayor George Flaggs Jr., Warren County Chamber of Commerce director Pablo Diaz; Laura Beth Strickland, Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau; Austin Golding, Golding Barge Lines; Tim Cantwell, Cantwell-Anderson Inc.; Sam Andrews, city of Vicksburg; and county supervisor Richard George met with the students.

During opening remarks, Flaggs told students the city and business has a responsibility “to create an environment that is conducive for you to come back and want to be a part of our community by continuing to improve the economic prosperity that this city enjoys and is going to enjoy in the future.”

“As you go to college, we want you back,” Vicksburg-Warren County executive director Pablo Diaz said. “Everything we do today is hopefully creating an environment that provides for you a reason to come back, with jobs, good quality of life and with quality things in the community to do where you feel like it’s worthwhile to come back home.”

Austin Golding, vice president of Golding Barge Line, said his family, which has been in business for more than 50 years has stayed in Vicksburg “because we really feel like it gives us a competitive edge.

Golding discussed the advantages Vicksburg has.

“You live in a town that’s unique; it gives you a really, really good chance to succeed,” he said. “There is no more rewarding feeling than coming home and make a difference. What we’re tying to do with this group is set up an opportunity for you guys to bring your talents back here to sell.

“Not much of what we do as group up here is going to affect us directly tomorrow,” he said. “Most of it’s going to benefit you guys 5, 10,15 years down the road. Right now Vicksburg is better now than it was 10 years ago.”

During a question and answer session the group was asked about Vicksburg’s future and its perception as an “old city,” Flaggs said the city had to combine the city’s assets of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, tourism and the downtown environment to make the city attractive and bring in technology.

He said the city’s historic buildings are part of the city’s culture and must be included in programs to market the city.

“I believe this city is going to be the best city in the state of Mississippi in the next 10 years,” he said. The group also fielded a question about public education saying people needed to look past the state Department of Education assessment results and look at the programs like the Vicksburg-Warren School District’s Academy of Innovation, River City Early College and other programs that are preparing students for careers and post secondary education when they graduate.

Cantwell also commended voters for approving the school district bond issue to upgrade school buildings and for working to blend career education programs.

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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