Paired with four of the county’s supervisors, representatives of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce and Amory Mayor Brad Blalock spent a little more than two days visiting face-to-face with legislators and national organizations in Washington, D.C. last week during a busy itinerary that illustrated the county’s unified effort.
“When you look at Monroe County realistically, you’ve always had North Monroe and South Monroe, but this was one group. We discussed how we needed to make this trip every other year,” said Monroe County Board of Supervisors President Billy Kirkpatrick. “One of our goals was to say that we’re open for business and when we come back, they’ll know who we are.”
Members of the group, with public and private sector representation, divided key talking points to the likes of staff at Mississippi’s 1st Congressional district, the offices of Congressmen Bennie Thompson and Steve Palazzo, Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran.
During the meetings, topics discussed included localized topics within the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s port analysis study and remapping of floodplains by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which the county filed a protest against in 2010.
“The Corps [of Engineers] agreed to do a new study, and we should’ve had more information by now. We’ve been told this is going to happen, and the dates have passed, and we asked for help to see that the new study is done,” Kirkpatrick said.
As far as ports go, the group stated its needs in expanding the KCS railroad to the Port of Aberdeen and additional fleeting space at the Amory Port to make it more marketable.
“Last fall we were looking at some of the opportunities. The state released a port analysis study with opportunities to strengthen ports. Given the federal connection to the waterway, we wanted to make sure the legislators knew of these opportunities,” said Monroe County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Skip Scaggs.
While Scaggs didn’t elaborate on specific assistance requested during the trip, he said the approach of the delegation is a long-term way of having legislators understand the county’s opportunities and obstacles and how the county asks to overcome those obstacles.
While members of the chamber’s board of directors paid for the trip with their own money, Three Rivers Planning and Development District provided funding for the county officials to show support of workforce development programs and port development.
Monroe County is part of the multi-county area of The Mississippi Partnership through Three Rivers, which provides high-tech workforce training through the Workforce Investment Area Act of 1998.
Through this act, the Mississippi Partnership is responsible for the WIN Job Centers and the Counseling 2 Career (C2C) program, which helps people with troubled pasts through mentoring and building job skills.
While in Washington, District 1 Supervisor Doug Wiggins thanked Wicker for his support of the act, and briefed him on how it’s been beneficial to economic development and disaster recovery.
“It’s the pinnacle of that type product in the country. Several Monroe County people have participated in the program. A young man from Nettleton who went through it was actually on the same tour as us with Toyota,” said Wiggins of the C2C program.
The Monroe County group also visited with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Counties to discuss legislation that could potentially trickle down to the county.
“These are federal issues that could impact local decisions. It’s one thing to read a report or an article about it, and it’s another to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth,” Scaggs said.
“Being there in person means more than just a phone call,” Wiggins said.
Kirkpatrick said a group of supervisors took a similar delegation trip to Washington after the stimulus package was released in 2008.
“With Skip, from Day 1, his goal is relationship building. It started with TVA, MDA and Three Rivers, which are groups that are very involved in the economic area, and you want that good working relationship,” Kirkpatrick said. “With all of these organizations, you want to be on a first name basis, and this is just another step along the pathway. We know Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, but we want to know the first names of their chiefs of staff because when you call that’s who you’ll be speaking to.”