Candidates getting briefing on economic development needs

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

Third Congressional District candidate John Rounsaville, aRepublican from Madison, met with Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamberof Commerce Executive Director Cliff Brumfield Thursday for a briefdiscussion on the area’s economic development options.

It was the second such meeting between chamber officials anddistrict candidates. Republican Charlie Ross, of Brandon, haspreviously engaged in similar discussions while campaigning inBrookhaven and Republican David Landrum, of Madison, is scheduledto meet with Brumfield later this week.

The meetings have been purely informational, Brumfield said, sothat whichever candidate prevails in the race for the district’sseat in the U.S. House of Representatives will be knowledgeableabout the area’s economic needs.

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“It’s good to have open rapport with the candidates,” Brumfieldsaid. “That way we can let them know the challenges we face andlearn some of their ideas for developing our local economy.”

Such meetings have taken on increased significance recently.Gov. Haley Barbour has repeatedly targeted Southwest Mississippi asan area in need of economic development attention.

“Our area of the state has become a focal point,” Brumfieldsaid. “And it’s a hot topic for the congressional candidates. We’repleased that the candidates have given the topic not only lipservice, but have taken it upon themselves to find out what canreally be done to promote economic development in SouthwestMississippi.”

Whichever candidate manages to gain victory in the congressionalrace, he will have big shoes to fill, as outgoing Congressman ChipPickering has been instrumental in assisting local officials intheir economic endeavors. One of Pickering’s last efforts was thesecuring of a $1.1 million grant to boost the development ofLinbrook Business Park.

Brumfield said that, so far, the candidates have paid attentionto Pickering’s past actions.

“It’s very promising to learn of the interest these candidateshave in continuing that level of service,” Brumfield said.

As he has previously done from behind the microphone at theongoing debates sponsored by Mississippi State University’s John C.Stennis Institute of Government, Rounsaville explored furtheroptions for utilizing, and creating new businesses out of one ofthe state’s leading, existing industries – forestry.

“It’s no secret that forestry has been the bread and butter forSouthwest Mississippi for a long time,” Rounsaville said. “It’sstill a big industry, and we must look for new uses andalternatives.”

One of the alternatives Rounsaville discussed with Brumfield wasthe development of wood-based fuels, specifically cellulose-basedethanol.

“Instead of using corn for ethanol, you can ferment wood waste,”Rounsaville said. “A lot of people believe that corn-based ethanolwill be economically viable to produce, but ethanol made fromwood-based waste matter would also be a good substitute.”

Brumfield and Rounsaville also discussed the area’s work force.Rounsaville supports Barbour’s plan of utilizing the communitycollege system to train potential industry workers. No matter thetraining, Brumfield spoke of the work force in terms ofrealism.

“Southwest Mississippi has a credible work force with manytalents and skills, but we’re realistic – we realize that we don’thave the population here to lure an industry like Nissan orToyota,” Brumfield said. “But we do have tremendous capabilities tobring in equally beneficial industries that would hire in numbers -an industry more realistic to our demographics.”

Rounsaville explained his qualifications in economicdevelopment, skills he acquired while serving as the state directorof USDA Rural Development, as an economic advisor to the governorand 10 years of experience working with Pickering on variouseconomic development issues. He said he knows where to find, andhow to secure, economic assistance.

“Whatever projects are brought forth, there are various programsto assist,” Rounsaville said. “Grants can provide additional skilltraining, and national emergency grants can help communitiesaffected by trade-related instances, like when manufacturers closedown or relocate.”

In the end, Brumfield was satisfied with the meeting and theissues discussed.

“We were able to have a good Q and A sessions – learn more abouthis economic policies and discuss the Third CongressionalDistrict’s economy,” he said. “Meetings like this are veryproductive. The candidates seemed well-aware of our localeconomy.”