BY JOE B. COATES
This year could be a banner year for economic and industrial development in Copiah County, or it could be one to forget.
“We’re just not sure what’s going take place, moreso than in other recent years,” said Neil Honan, Executive Director of the Copiah County Economic Development District. Honan was speaking to the organization’s Board of Trustees during last Tuesday’s quarterly meeting at The Thames Center at Co-Lin.
Honan reported that the stimulus plan currently being considered by the U. S. Congress has some local projects that could be included. The Town of Wesson has submitted proposals for water and sewer improvements, street and road repairs, sidewalk and walking path enhancements and recreational use. The county is working on getting approved a 34 mile road overlay project, a new water well for the industrial park and Phase 1 of the Dentville/Jack Road project. Hazlehurst has submitted paperwork for water and sewer improvements, as well.
“These will have great impacts on our local economy if they are approved,” Honan added.
The poultry industry in the county is among those that are struggling, Honan added. Over 1,000 jobs in the county are tied either directly or indirectly to the industry. Sagging prices and a drop in the use of poultry products has forced the closing of several growers and the scaling back of production in area plants, Honan said.
On a positive note, the road design for the Industrial Park is ready and bids will be let soon. The park is also going to get a lighted sign after bids are let. Additionally, Honan reported that the supervisors are planning to arrange for two pad-ready sites to be constructed at the park in anticipation of the upturn in the economy. By all counts, the fourth quarter of 2009 is projecting to be the beginning of brighter days for economic development and the national economy.
Scotty King, secretary of the board, reported that Honan had proposed to the executive committee that his hours be cut back and remuneration adjusted accordingly as he prepares to retire from the organization. After a brief discussion, a motion was made and seconded and the board approved the adjustment. Honan will be less than full-time, but will not be any less able to perform his duties.
“I have experienced health problems recently that allowed me time to reflect on things and to devise an exit strategy that be good for everyone involved with CCEDD,” Honan said. He thanked the board for their understanding and for their approval.
In the meantime, the executive board will form a search committee that will seek a replacement for Honan.
“We certainly are going to miss Neil and the wealth of knowledge and experience he has brought to our organization,” said Richard Stockett, vice president of the board.
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George Marx, president of Copiah Bank, N. A., spoke for a few minutes about the national and local banking and financial pictures, respectively.
“Congress is to blame for the lack oversight that caused this entire mess,” Marx said. He explained that back in the 1970’s, Congress gave approval to the wishes of President Jimmy Carter for everyone in America to own a house, passing the Community Reinvestment Act. Then, actions taken by Congress during the 1990’s proliferated the problem. In recent years, members of Congress have turned their back on the problem, he said, hoping it would all just go away. Relaxed lending practices created a buying frenzy in certain large markets, leading to a very high volume of sub-prime mortgages. When those weren’t repaid, the bottom fell out, and we have what we have today, Marx said.
Of his own bank, Marx said that the institution is strong and in a good position. The organization is opening a new office in Richland next month and in Clinton later this year, to go along with those in Hazlehurst, Crystal Springs, Wesson, Byram and Florence.
“Overall, banks in Mississippi have faired well because most of them didn’t have much holdings in Freddie Mac, which was the largest purchase of sub-primes,” Marx said. Furthermore, Copiah Bank, and others in the county–to his knowledge–have not made any sub-prime loans, he added.
Louis Dugas, the Workforce Education Director at Co-Lin, spoke briefly about several projects he had going on. Currently, Advance Auto in Gallman is utilizing the mobile training unit. It will be at Hardy Wilson Hospital in February, then back to AAP in March, he said. The lab is of no cost to those who utilize it and offers a wide variety of specialized programs, he added.
The board handled routine matters during the luncheon meeting and adjourned until April.