Time for supervisors to get on board

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, November 10, 2018

do not understand the logic of Richard George, president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, when he claims Warren County has given up $500,000 in tax revenue with the economic development package put together to lure Unified Brands to Warren County’s Ceres Industrial Park.

The county was receiving $34,000 in tax revenue annually from the vacant building Unified Brands is leasing. The only decision county supervisors had to make was between $34,000 in tax revenue and close to 425 new jobs in Warren County.

That’s no decision at all. Of course, we would hope all would choose jobs.

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Economic development is a different game in the last 20 years or so than it was before, whether we like it or not. Jobs are lucrative and those who offer them have the ability to put together good deals for themselves based on those jobs. Take Continental Tire for example. The State of Mississippi is basically constructing that plant in exchange for the jobs the company will bring.

True, unemployment now is low, but we’ve all lived long enough to know how cyclic that is. For our community to continue to thrive, we must work hard toward economic development. We must work to lure jobs of all kinds if we hope to support our residents and our future.

A year or so ago, I had the opportunity to talk with a former official of the Mississippi Development Authority under the Haley Barbour administration and I asked, with all of Vicksburg’s assets — plentiful industrial land, abundant river access, Interstate 20, its proximity to the state’s capital and major universities — why hasn’t the area benefited from the economic development of other communities in the state?

The answer: Every time the state would put together a project for our area, when it got to the county’s board of supervisors, that’s where the project would die. That board would not participate in offering incentives necessary to bring jobs to Warren County.

It happened so many times, the former official told me, that Warren County was, in essence, blackballed from future economic development projects.

And the citizens and Vicksburg and Warren County have paid the price.

Where do supervisors think residents are going to get the money to pay their county tax increases if they don’t invest in the economic development effort going on here?

For the first time in a very long time, Vicksburg and Warren County has a true economic development effort under way, thanks to the leadership of City of Vicksburg officials and Mayor George Flaggs, the Warren County Port Commission, the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and the private business leaders who make up the Economic Development Foundation. Those groups had the foresight to hire one of the South’s best economic development leaders in Pablo Diaz, who has brought results in the last two years that couldn’t have been imagined in such a short amount of time.

It simply isn’t true that the county’s board of supervisors wasn’t asked to pay a part of the local monies needed for the MDA grant. They certainly were, and refused. They have done all they can to hamper Diaz and others who are part of economic development here. What I don’t understand is why?

Unfortunately, it may be all a product of personality, politics and one-upmanship, and the county’s taxpayers are the ones who pay the price.

Credit must be given to District 3 County Supervisor Charles Selmon, who apparently understands. Sharing half the cost of the local funds portion of the MDA grant with the city of Vicksburg is “the right thing to do,” he said.

He’s right.

Thank goodness for the City of Vicksburg and Flaggs, who stepped up to pay the county’s share so our area would not lose those precious jobs, even though the jobs won’t be located in the city.

Warren County ended this year with $11.359 million in general fund cash. Of that, about $7.5 million are cash reserves. Our county needs to step up to the plate and carry its weight in the economic development effort here.

County voters are watching closely.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Vicksburg Post. You may reach her at jan.griffey@vicksburgpost.com.