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Future remains bright despite 2002 setbacks

When one reflects over the past year, it could be opined that itwas a year of humbleness for a community that has soared so highover the past 10 or so years.

It was a year that the laws of physics were applied. A communitythat enjoyed and so proudly boasted of the successes of its currentand former residents learned humility as it all came tumblingdown.

Some communities can boast of the success of a single nativeson, but very few can boast about a group of individuals whoseactions changed the world.

During the eighties and nineties, we had the rise of Mike Parkerfrom a local businessman to the halls of Congress, a run forgovernor and a presidential appointment. In that same period we hada group of local businessmen, led by Bernie Ebbers, grow an idea –originally hatched on a restaurant napkin — become thesecond-largest telecommunications company in the world.

During the same period, two other former Brookhaven residents -Bob Pittman, most recently of America Online fame, and DickieScruggs of the tobacco litigation fame – were also players on thenational stage.

There were those who wanted to bottle the water around here, assome were sure it was the common ingredient behind the success ofthese men.

As many times the question was raised, how could one smallcommunity produce such visionary captains of industry? Ebbers,Pittman and Scruggs were icons in their respective industries asthe undisputed leaders in their professions.

Unfortunately, for each, 2002 was not a good year.

In March, President Bush dumped Parker after a disagreement overpolitical policy. A few weeks later, it was Ebbers stepping down,as WorldCom stumbled and eventually declared bankruptcy over anaccounting scandal that shook the financial markets including thefortunes of many local residents. Even Bob Pittman found himselfstumbling with the bust of the Internet bubble as he was dismissedfrom AOL in mid-summer.

Scruggs, too, found problems in early October as state andfederal authorities announced an investigation into questionablepolitical donations to Mississippi Supreme Court candidates. Thatinvestigation continues.

For our community, 2002 was not the best of years, but it wasnot the worst of years. The local economic fallout from thecollapse of WorldCom was not as bad as many feared.

While many communities saw plant closings and lost jobs, LincolnCounty has actually seen one new plant opening and plans for amulti-million dollar expansion of another. New retail businesseshave opened or expanded and local retail sales remain stable.

We have completed the $12 million renovation of Brookhaven HighSchool and are working on renovations in the county schools afterthe passage of a $3.8 million bond issue in September. As acommunity, we have invested in our future and made education apriority that will pay dividends in the years to come.

While we have enjoyed the spotlight from the success WorldCom inthe past, we will soon be enjoying the spotlight with the openingof the Mississippi School of the Arts next year. That event willbring attention to this area as the undisputed leader in educationand a center for the arts in Mississippi.

Yes, 2002 was a year most of us would like to forget. But bycontinuing to work together as we have in the past, we can look toa very promising future for our community.

Have a happy and prosperous 2003.