By STEVEN NALLEY
As leaders of local business and government entered the Greater Starkville Development Partnership annual banquet Thursday, they saw a presentation of photos depicting Starkville landmarks as they were years ago and as they are now. To begin a speech about Starkville‚Äôs economic future ‚ÄĒ a tie-in with the night‚Äôs theme of ‚ÄúStarkville: Then and Now‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ GSDP President Jon Maynard used the presentation as a launching point for some humor to lighten the mood.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs probably a picture of Parker Wiseman with and without hair (in the presentation),‚ÄĚ Maynard said, drawing laughter.
For the rest of his speech, Maynard painted a sincere picture of Starkville as a growing economy amid an American recession before presenting awards to several of the people and organizations who helped make this growth happen.
Maynard said he recently attended a conference with counterparts from development partnerships and chambers of commerce from across the country. One speaker there asked audience members to raise their hands if sales tax revenues in their cities were growing steadily, he said, and he was one of very few in the room who raised his hand.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre seeing more and more inquiries for new shops, new restaurants and new businesses of all kinds,‚ÄĚ Maynard said. ‚ÄúMy counterparts across the country are not seeing that same kind of growth.‚ÄĚ
He said one of the most important steps the community can take to accelerate growth is to retain and attract graduates from Mississippi State University.
‚ÄúWe want to reverse the intellectual leakage that‚Äôs been going on for decades in this community,‚ÄĚ Maynard said. ‚ÄúWe have been creating talent at MSU. It‚Äôs our job to bring them back here and grow our community with people who know us love us and want to be here in Starkville. We want to create the jobs that bring them here.‚ÄĚ
To that end, Maynard said the GSDP has been working hard to attract businesses with research-oriented backgrounds, including biomedical engineering, homeland security and research fields beyond the ‚Äúvisible horizon‚ÄĚ of technology. Examples of the latter include II-VI and Semi-South, he said, both of whom are expanding, creating new jobs and specializing in silicon carbide, a key ingredient in the next generation of electronics.
‚Äú(The businesses we attract may) have roots somewhere else, but they need our talent,‚ÄĚ Maynard said. ‚ÄúThese companies can do their business just about anywhere, (but they) need to be close to research. They need quality of life and a less expensive place to live. Starkville fits the bill for that.‚ÄĚ
One field the GSDP has recently focused on is data centers, Maynard said. Data centers‚Äô powerful servers use large amounts of electricity, he said, but with TVA poised to build a new 161-kilovolt line near Starkville, the GSDP has the energy supply needed to recruit data center industries.
Maynard said he has a list of local companies with plans to expand in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
‚ÄúWe have at least three years of people saying, ‚ÄėI‚Äôm going to grow, and by God, I‚Äôm going to grow here in Starkville,‚Äô‚ÄĚ Maynard said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs good news.‚ÄĚ
Maynard and other business leaders presented several awards to recognize those who make Starkville‚Äôs economic growth happen. The awards included:
- The R. Clay Simmons Exemplary Service Award, presented to Tabor Development.
- The Crystal Pineapple Award, presented to Starkville Electric Department.
- The T. E. Veitch Community Service Award, presented to representatives from Habitat for Humanity.
- The Downtown Revitalization Award, presented to Steve Langston.
- The Oktibbeha County Industry of the Year Award, presented to Gulf States.
- The GSDP Ambassador of the Year Award, presented to Darlene Comish.
- The Service to the Military Award, presented to Lorene Cox.