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‘Cooking up’ economic development; Delta Bridge Project holds kickoff event at CCC’s Pinnacle
There are a lot of players in the Delta Bridge Project, but the ones who will have the biggest impact on its success or failure will be the citizens of Clarksdale and Coahoma County, those whom Southern Bancorp executive Joe Black calls the “wild card.”
Black, who initiated the start of the Delta Bridge Project in Phillips County, Ark. six years ago, was one of the principal speakers at Tuesday night’s kickoff of Clarksdale’s project in the Pinnacle on the campus of Coahoma Community College.
“I hope you will remember this night when we started,” Black said as he spoke to several hundred business and professional leaders. “The wild card is you. You control the direction Coahoma County takes.”
Black said while the Walton Foundation and Southern Bancorp’s Capital Partners laid the groundwork for economic growth in communities like Helena, Ark., successful economic development works best “when it comes from within.”
Black said the Delta Bridge Project would reach out to the citizens of Clarksdale and Coahoma County to take a lead role in pursuing the project’s five pillars – economic development, education, health care, housing and leadership.
“We know how to cook; we know how to spur economic development,” Black said.
Black likened CCC to an entree in that it has taken the lead in nourishing education in the community . He also commended Northwest Regional Medical Center as the area’s primary health care provider.
Black said unlike many rural communities that seen their downtown business districts fade away, Clarksdale’s central district remain a vibrant asset. “It has good bones,” Black said.
Like the CCC choir and band who entertained the crowd, Black said the Delta Bridge Project would succeed only when all entities in the community “work in harmony” through hard work and dedication.
Black, president of Capital Partners, Southern Bancorp’s non-profit arm, named Lois McMurchy, the bank’s senior community development officer, to manage the Delta Bridge Project.
Pete Johnson, former co-director of the Delta Regional Authority and a key player in the Coahoma County project, posed the question to the audience, “Do we have the commitment and resolve to change things?”
Johnson worked with Black during Southern Bancorp’s creation of the Delta Bridge Project in Helena.
Noting that success often involves periods of difficulties, Johnson pointed to three individuals – Walter Payton, Winston Churchill and the Apostle Paul – who experienced defeat before they reach the height of their life’s work.
“You think Walter Payton never got knocked down?” Johnson said. The late Walter Payton, an All-American at Jackson State and later Hall of Fame running back with the Chicago Bears, was considered too small for professional football but proved the naysayers wrong, Johnson said.
Churchill lost twice in British politics long before “he grew into his own” as prime minister during World War II, Johnson noted.
Paul was thrust into prison by Romans where he ministered to Roman guards and prisoners alike, Johnson said.
Johnson said while Coahoma County has experienced a downturn in population and the economy, a resurgence could be achieved if the citizens accept the challenges of the 21st Century.
“We are no longer just competing with one another in Coahoma County, but globally,” Johnson said.
“We can if we set a new course. Will you help me?” Johnson said.
Joe Webb, chief operating officer at NWRMC and keynote speaker for the program, introduced members of the Coahoma County Leadership Steering Committee who attended the meeting including State Rep. Chuck Espy, Clarksdale city attorney Curtis Boschert, insurance executive Bill Olson and realtor Hal Fiser, among others.
Three notables who were unable to attend to conflicting schedules were vice chairman Willis Frazer who was in Jackson and Daniel Vassal, the Coahoma County administrator, who was also out of town, and Albert Britt, president of First National Bank.
The Coahoma County School Board meeting kept several leaders from attending the project kickoff including Superintendent Pauline Rhodes and board president James Washington who is also mayor of Friars Point.
Fredalyn Frasier, vice president of AECOM Design & Planning, Atlanta, told the audience her firm would serve as the facilitator for carrying out the goals of the Delta Bridge Project. A $175,000 grant provided the funding mechanismto hire AECOM.
“It’s your plan,” Frasier said, adding that it would have a 12-month time frame for completion.
The next visioning session is set for Nov.8 at which time “We will look at the strengths and weaknesses” of Clarksdale and Coahoma County, Frasier said.
Appropriately, the CCC choir followed an original musical selection entitled, “I need you to survive,” sung by soloist Kimberly Suggs.
Chuck Espy followed that interlude with an introduction of those mayors who came for the program beginning with his father, Clarksdale Mayor Henry Espy.
Mayor Espy said Clarksdale and Coahoma County were in the “right place” to “forge the right partnership.”
Jonestown Mayor Joe Phillips said he had witnessed “a lot of changes,” adding that there were “a lot more changes needed
Coahoma Mayor W.J. Jones told the audience that everyone present should see themselves as playing a role to “see what we can do to make it happen.” He saw the Delta Bridge Project like a “bridge over troubled waters.”