Smira takes over community development duties

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 26, 2003

MONTICELLO — The new Lawrence County Community Developmentdirector brings many years of experience in state economicdevelopment to his position here.

Although he most recently served as the economic developmentdirector of Copiah County for the three years, Bob Smira said amajority of his career was spent in state efforts.

“I’ve worked in the government offices in various capacitiessince Bill Waller was governor in 1973,” he said.

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Smira, who worked with the Department of Economic Development,said when Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was elected nearly four years agothat changed.

“They were all positions that were at the will and pleasure ofthe governor,” Smira said. “He wanted to make some changes, and Iwas one of them.”

He accepted the Copiah County position, and it changed hisperception of economic development.

“This helps me see development in a new light,” he said. “I’mnot looking to get back. To be honest, its a much harder job at thelocal level because you’re much closer to the events that have moreimpact on a personal level.”

At the state level, the number of developers tend to insulatethe directors from any personal hardships related to an industryclosing, he said. At the local level, not only does he have to workharder to help the displaced workers, but he knows thempersonally.

“There’s more of a feeling of responsibility to make positivethings happen,” Smira said.

In rural areas, it’s not easy to make things happen, hesaid.

Lawrence County suffers from the same characteristics of mostMississippi rural counties, he said. To make industries feelstrongly about moving into an area, that area must be strong inthree areas — education, opportunities to shop for its employees,and adequate housing for all levels of employees.

Smira said Lawrence County has at least one of those three wellin hand.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see that Lawrence County has avery cooperative spirit, especially among its schools, who arewilling to work and and provide those opportunities for school-agechildren,” he said. “That’s a very positive step in moving forwardwith educational opportunities.”

Smira said the county is positioned well to move forward withits strong base in forest products and the highway expansions. Heintends to build on those strengths.

His strategic plan at the moment is to work on expandingexisting industries and to introduce other industries that willcapitalize on the existing ones. With the county’s strong base inforest products emphasizing after market or “value-added”industries would help diversify and strengthen that base.

Foster’s Millworks, which produces cabinets and other items, isa good example of that, he said. They use the forest products tocreate new products.

“We are talking to a company interested in the old KellwoodBuilding now,” Smira said. “They make packaging materials. We hopeto convince them to move here within a few weeks.”

The new director also intends to revisit the county’s long-termeconomic development plan. The expansion of Highways 84 and,possibly, 27 will have an impact on that plan.

He wants to meet with the county’s leaders and developmentagencies to “develop a strategic plan to mitigate potentialdrawbacks and capitalize on their good points.”

The strong points of the four-lane highway system are improvedtransportation and has a great influence on interested industries.The drawback, however, is that it tends to draw traffic from thetown’s interior, especially the downtown area, because traffic nolonger moves through the town.

Smira is confident many positive things are ahead of the county,but cautioned they take time and the economic plan they devise willconsider the county 5-10 years from now.

“It’s going to take a lot of leadership and citizen involvement,but I think it’s imperative that we do that.”

Smira’s wife Rene is an administrator for the state Departmentof Health district office in McComb. They five children and ninegrandchildren.