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Opinion: More players boost team effort

Economic development is a team sport that requires the cooperation of city and county leaders, business owners, the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Alliance and taxpayers.

And it looks like the local team is getting an extra player to help out.

The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors and the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen recently agreed to contract with a retail consulting and development firm from Tupelo at a cost of $36,000 annually.

The company specializes in identifying retail business gaps and finding businesses to fill them if necessary. It also works to fill those gaps with existing businesses when possible.

Though many people assume differently, the Chamber of Commerce and the EDA do not actively recruit retail businesses. The Chamber works with existing businesses to help them succeed. The EDA recruits industry. While either group can provide help to any retailer seeking to locate here, they don’t actively search for them.

That’s what the Retail Coach can help do. The group will conduct market research and will help identify retail gaps and “leakage” — products or services that locals leave the city and county to purchase elsewhere.

They can hopefully help existing businesses plugs those leaks. If not, they will help bring a business here that meets that need.

Other Mississippi cities have partnered with the company, and some appear to be happy with their services and at least one was not.  That concerns us less than the fact that the presentation by the group to city and county officials and the discussion that followed took place in a closed session without the public.

Officials entered executive session under  the “economic development” exception to the state’s open meetings law. But that’s a bit of stretch. The exception says specifically that boards can enter executive session to discuss “transaction of business and discussions or negotiations regarding the location, relocation or expansion of a business, medical service or an industry.”

The presentation by the retail group doesn’t appear to fit that category. To our knowledge, the boards weren’t discussing a specific “location, relocation or expansion of a business, medical service or an industry.”

As far as we know, they simply talked about what retail consulting services the Tupelo firm could offer. This a process that the public should expect to be a part of, and we expect local officials to include the public in future meetings with the retail group.