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Touting Agritourism

Copiah-Lincoln Community College graduate and state Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith returned to the school Thursday as keynote speaker of the 2012 Business and Appreciation Luncheon.

     “We consider Commissioner Hyde-Smith to be one of us,” said Co-Lin President Ronnie Nettles.

     Standing at a podium in Co-Lin’s Thames Center before a room of regional business leaders, city and county officials and Co-Lin administrators, Hyde-Smith was quick to highlight the common roots shared by those in the room. Hyde-Smith said she hasn’t strayed from those roots.

     “You are what you are because of where you’ve been,” she said.

     Nettles took a moment to humorously discuss Hyde-Smith’s Co-Lin roots.

     “I think she was a cheerleader here,” Nettles said. “We considered getting some old yearbooks out, but decided not to.”

     The luncheon took place Thursday during the school’s career fair at which employers and business active in the area were available to meet with students about prospective jobs.

     Speaking to the gathered business leaders, Nettles praised the readiness of the work force Co-Lin is preparing.

     “Our students are ready and eager to work,” he said.

     Noting that graduation for seniors is approaching, Hyde-Smith agreed on the importance of introducing students to employers.

     “As we’re looking at all these graduations, I’m so glad we have people like you that come together to expose students to their options,” Hyde-Smith said.

     Moving past introductory matters, Hyde-Smith discussed several bills she’s keeping her eye on in the Legislature.

     First, she noted a bill that’s passed both the Senate and the House that would limit the liability of agritourism sites in the state. Hyde-Smith discussed the importance of fostering agritoursim.

     “The fastest growing tourism in Mississippi is agritourism,” Hyde-Smith said.

     Hyde-Smith also updated the luncheon crowd on an issue she was a proponent of throughout her campaign: selling off the naming rights of buildings at the state fairgrounds in Jackson. Hyde-Smith said a bill allowing this is working its way through the Legislature and she’s confident the move will allow her to augment her department’s budget.

     Other future plans she discussed included an in interest in working with Jackson leaders to develop a river walk along the Pearl River.

     The former Brookhaven senator also took some time to reflect on the rigors of a statewide campaign.

     “If you’re thinking about gastric bypass to lose weight, forget it,” Hyde-Smith said. “Just run for state office. You will lose 100 pounds.”

     As a woman running for the agriculture post, her campaign also faced some unique initial hurdles.

     “A lot of people look at the commissioner of agriculture and they don’t see a woman in that position,” Hyde-Smith said.

     Hyde-Smith noted she’s the first woman elected to the agriculture post in the state and the first woman elected to the post in the country, among the 11 states that still elect the agriculture commissioner. Other female agriculture commissioners have been appointed.

     As a farmer herself, Hyde-Smith said she always felt up to the task, a task she described as very important.

     “Agriculture is the most essential industry in any state,” Hyde-Smith said. “There’s 2 percent of the population that feeds the other 98 percent.”