Cole bemoans beef plant impact on state’s future

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 12, 2007

In his travels during his campaign for state Commissioner ofAgriculture, Democratic candidate Rickey Cole said citizens’concerns about the office can be summed up in the initials B andP.

The BP stands for beef plant, referring to the failed venturenear Oakland that has cost the state around $55 million. Cole, inan interview with The DAILY LEADER during a stop in BrookhavenThursday, said the beef plant was costly not only from thefinancial standpoint but also in terms of future opportunities.

“The fallout from the beef plant is the bad gift that keeps ongiving,” Cole said.

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In the aftermath of the beef plant debacle, Cole questioned howreceptive the Legislature would be should any otheragriculture-related opportunities be presented in the future.

“It’s going to be difficult to get legislative support for anyidea that would bring value-added processing to Mississippi,” Colesaid.

Cole went on to say that incumbent Commissioner Lester Spell, aRepublican, is now working hard to shift the blame for the beefplant to the Legislature and the Mississippi Development Authority.With the commissioner’s approach, Cole questioned how effectiveSpell would be in the future if he’s re-elected.

“It is important for the commissioner of agriculture to have aclose working relationship with the Legislature and MDA,” Colesaid.

In an interview with The DAILY LEADER last Tuesday, Spellacknowledged mistakes were made in how the beef plant was handled.Citing additional funds for cattlemen and the creation of 400 jobs,though, he said the beef plant “seemed a like a good project with alot of potential.”

Spell went on to say there were other good projects, some ofwhich cost more than the beef plant, that have been successful.Those, however, have not received the publicity that the beef planthas, he said.

“There’s a lot of successful projects out there that you neverhear about,” Spell said.

On Thursday, Cole acknowledged the creation of successfulprojects before the beef plant. However, he challenged Spell toname a successful project that happened after the beef plant.

After the beef plant, Cole said the Land, Water and TimberBoard, which was involved in the project, lost credibility andSpell was so occupied with the beef plant that he was unable torespond to other economic development needs and opportunities.While also admitting the role Democratic House leaders had insupporting the project, Cole called the beef plant an example of”good ole boy politics.”

“This was a bad idea, plain and simple,” Cole said.

In other matters, Cole said agriculture represents 30 percent ofthe state’s economy and is a $6 billion a year endeavor. Hediscussed ways to capitalize on the “state’s great untappedresources,” including its land, weather and hard-workingpeople.

“I want to be a leader, a spokesman and a salesman,” Colesaid.

Cole discussed ways to improve local growers’ access to localretailers, enforcement of country of origin labeling laws on beef,and new opportunities for dairy processing in areas like SouthwestMississippi. He touted the appeal and benefits of upscale nicheitems that often can be produced through less work and make moremoney.

“If it’s locally produced, it’s advantageous,” Cole said.

In addition to Spell, the 41-year-old former chairman of thestate Democratic Party faces Constitution Party candidate LeslieRiley in the Nov. 6 general election. In his campaign so far, Colesaid he has traveled over 41,000 miles and made more than 200public appearances.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Cole said.