The route to economic development must be planned in advance

Published 7:00 am Friday, April 13, 2018

By Donald Van De Werken 

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to host a foreign business delegation visiting potential industrial locations in the South in several small counties. If you ever traveled on a bus with folks from a foreign country, you will notice their eyes and ears are always wide open. After a couple of hours, the conversation turned to American history, politics and local culture. But the one comment that remains on my mind to this day occurred when a business delegate commented on the amount of trash, junk piles and dilapidated houses along our county roads. It was not a disrespectful comment but rather a casual observation of what he thought of rural America. We had a discussion about the litter situation, but all of my excuses and comments did nothing.  His mind was made up.  “Untidy yard = messy business.”

For years I thought about that comment.   

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As they say, first impressions are critical when meeting a new business partner, future in-laws or potential employer. When doing economic development recruitment, getting everything perfect for site consultants, business investors or foreign businesses is almost impossible. However, simple things can be done to help make better first impressions.   

1. Have the right economic development manager who can host qualified investors and be a one-stop shop for future investors in our community.

I commend the local county leadership in taking the first big step in setting up an economic development council.  Lets hope politics doesn’t stop the momentum.

2. Have your facts together about the community, history, local culture, public education, workforce development and infrastructure capacities to better sell the area.

3. Create a local host committee to host receptions, luncheons, workshops and, yes, make group trips to Jackson, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Washington DC to recruit businesses to this area.

4. Create a local identity so investors will remember us. An easy first step would be to take some pride in our county and enforce the ordinances against the presence of abandoned cars, trucks, trailers and houses in the county.

Our local governments should also enforce county laws on litter, nuisance properties and enforce building codes.

The lesson I learned from my foreign friends is simple; if you’re going to take them on a tour of your neighborhood, plan your route. But why can’t every part of our county be a clean and nuisance free investment? 

Let our identity be,  “Pearl River, cleanest county in Mississippi!”