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CEOs clarify LINK-Starkville relationship

January 30, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

Leaders from both the Greater Starkville Development Partnership and the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK say their existing relationship is beneficial, and there is no immediate need for an alliance between the two organizations akin to the one LINK recently established with the West Point-Clay County Community Growth Alliance.
On Jan. 20, the Growth Alliance announced a formal three-year affiliation with LINK which allows the Growth Alliance to retain control of its chamber of commerce while LINK handles economic development activities.
Joe Max Higgins, LINK CEO, said he was announcing this alliance to the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau at its meeting Jan. 23 when one CVB member asked if there was a reason why Starkville and Oktibbeha County were omitted from the partnership discussion.
“I said, ‘Well, you’ve got to understand, West Point and Starkville have different situations,’” Higgins said. “I said West Point was without a director, without an economic developer and they had to either decide whether they were going to hire an economic developer or, as they chose to do, contract and partner with us. I said Starkville has an economic developer; they have a program. Maynard, as I see it, is a very capable economic developer, and if Starkville wanted to come to the table they would certainly be welcome.”
Higgins said he does not want the invitation to be misconstrued as an effort to pressure the GSDP or the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority into joining LINK.
“It’s their choice, not ours,” Higgins said. “I think people other than me will have to decide whether that would be best. The fact of the matter is if the question had never been asked, I would have never brought up Oktibbeha County.”
Jon Maynard, GSDP president, said there are no plans for the GSDP to establish an affiliation with LINK like the Growth Alliance has.
“We just don’t feel that that’s necessary at this time because we are successful in the approach we are taking,” Maynard said. “The other part of that is (GSDP and LINK) are also very complementary of one another. We are here to help augment the research and development and engineering side of the plants (Higgins) puts into place, but we are also working very hard so that when he puts a large plant into the Golden Triangle ... their engineers and other folks have a place where they feel like they can live. The things I do help with what he’s trying to do, and the things he’s doing help with what I’m trying to do.”
Maynard said the GSDP and LINK also produce fundamentally different types of economic development, and neither is better than the other. He said one of GSDP’s major current goals is to create jobs which bring Mississippi State University’s science and engineering graduates back to Starkville. He used this goal to illustrate the difference between GSDP and Columbus-Lowndes LINK.
“(The MSU graduates) won’t be coming back in large numbers by fulfilling industrial-type plants,” Maynard said. “They’re going to be coming back in large numbers to take over technology jobs, research jobs and things like that. You get kind of a square peg in a round hole if you try to do what (Higgins is) doing over here and try to do what I’m doing over there. There’s two different products; they’re two different approaches. One’s not better than the other. We already have a very good relationship.”
Higgins said LINK’s affiliation with the Growth Alliance will not affect LINK’s relationship with the GSDP.
“(With) Starkville having their program like they have and us working with West Point and Columbus, Starkville’s not going to be at a disadvantage,” Higgins said. “We’re going to cooperate and work with them just like we always have.”

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