Leaders must look to further positive trends

Published 9:00 pm Sunday, April 7, 2013

   As winter creakily gives way to the spring season there are also a few signs of life amidst local economic conditions.

     Gov. Phil Bryant made the trek from Jackson to Brookhaven last week and helped announce something local leaders have been working toward for several years – a project to secure the presence of a railcar repair plant in Brookhaven.

     The American Railcar Industries plant will bring about 30 new jobs with it and represents an expansion of the company’s investment in the Southwest Mississippi region.

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     ARI already operates a railcar repair plant in nearby Bude with about 100 employees. While the Bude facility will continue to deal with heavy repair, the Brookhaven plant will specialize in light repair, returning railcars to the lines as soon as possible.

     The footprint of ARI’s presence won’t be an economic game changer on the scale of the Canton Nissan plant or Toyota in Blue Mountain. However, those 30 jobs still represent a significant and needed step for the Lincoln County area.

     More significantly, local officials have expressed optimism that success will breed success and that ARI’s local investment will ultimately help propel further industrial interest in the area.

     “A lot of industries look at where other industries are going,” Mayor Les Bumgarner said last week.

     Local residents need not necessarily wait till the future for further good news, though.

     The ARI announcement comes amid other signs of burgeoning economic vitality including a new restaurant set to open in the Inez Hotel. A dining establishment located in that area will help spark the vibrancy of Brookhaven’s downtown.

     Further, unemployment numbers in Lincoln County continue to be among the lowest in the region at 9.9 percent on the most released numbers.

     There’s still much to be done. A 9.9 percent unemployment rate remains above the national rate and many downtown buildings continue to sit vacant.

     Brookhaven is also entering a transitional time. City elections are scheduled for June, and the current mayor isn’t pursuing another term and so his time in office will end in June. Cliff Brumfield, the local chamber of commerce director that helped bring ARI to Brookhaven, left that job in December and hasn’t been replaced yet.

     New office holders winning election should take stock. A divided or dysfunctional board is not in a position to provide the leadership Brookhaven needs right now. Instead, new faces in government should be ready to do their homework and hit the ground running when the next terms of office begin July 1. They’ll need to note what’s been accomplished and of what needed improvements remain and then work to ensure a seamless transition that builds on recent successes.