Officials with the Union County Development Association are trying to determine a new mission for the nearly 75-year-old organization.
The UCDA was created partly as a means to help find jobs for returning servicemen after World War II, and to help the area as it moved from primarily agricultural to industrial commerce.
Over the years the UCDA picked up tourism, responsibility for community events and other duties that were not strictly industrial development.
For many years it was the county’s sole industrial recruiter.
But then, over the past decade or so, that reversed.
Community events and tourism were shifted to a tourism director and then to the community development department. Industrial and economic development was relegated to an outside agency, Three Rivers Planning and Development District.
This left the UCDA with little to do other than help with the odd community event that came up from time to time and act as a sort of referral agency for business.
With the retirement of UCDA Executive Director Phil Nanney in December, it seemed to president Michael Brown that this might be the time to take a fresh look at the organization.
“Things have changed,” Brown said, and the way the UCDA operates may need to change as well, he added.
“We have been looking at other communities and getting data together,” Brown said. He and the executive committee have been meeting the past few months to consider possibilities and hear from William “Skip” Scaggs, executive director of the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association in West Point.
The NMIDA is funded by the Tennessee Valley Authority to help with community development, serving more than 30 counties in North Mississippi. The City of New Albany has used the NMIDA as a consultant in the past.
What seems to be coming out of these meetings is a recommendation that the UCDA be replaced by, or transformed into, something more like a Chamber of Commerce.
It could be described as a Community Development Partnership that would act as an umbrella agency for the various departments and organizations that are related to development and receive city or county funds.
Scaggs is working on a proposed organizational chart for the full board of directors to consider, with one director for the new organization but a board comprising representatives of the various organizations. “He has a rough draft that he is going to clean up,” Mayor Tim Kent said.
The idea would be to run the entities more efficiently, communicate better, avoid unnecessary duplication of funding for the same or similar projects, and ultimately save money.
“We want to spend our money more wisely,” Mayor Kent said. “A couple of departments have duplicate services and maybe some two can be turned into one.”
There also is no desire to have a UCDA director with no purpose other than to have one, especially if it is determined the old organization is no longer needed in its earlier form.
The Three Rivers consultant would still be responsible for industrial development but this new partnership would require a physical presence here in New Albany by the recruiter or assistant at least several days a week.
“We’re trying to get more of a presence here in charge of recruitment,” Mayor Kent said.
The plan is being compared to those used by Starkville and West Point now.
The Greater Starkville Development Partnership includes their Chamber, economic development, Main Street and tourism.
The Growth Alliance in West Point serves a similar function.
The UCDA board heard the preliminary proposal this past week but tabled any action until they could hear more hard data.
They are scheduled to meet again March 10 and the Main Street board was expected to meet this week, but organizations generally are on hold concerning any changes until a decision by the UCDA is made.
“We didn’t want to spring anything (on the boards) before we were ready,” Brown said.
Now, Union County spends about $118,000 on industrial development each year and New Albany spends $242,000 on industrial and economic development and tourism.
About half the county’s contribution has gone to the UCDA and the other half to Three Rivers Planning and Development District.
The city money, much of it coming from the two-percent tourism tax rather than general fund, is more diversified into tourism and economic development with about $43,000 going to the UCDA now mostly for promotions.
Included in both city and county spending are $40,000 annual fees from each to pay $80,000 for the industrial recruiter provided by Three Rivers. That recruiter also represents the other PUL counties, Pontotoc and Lee, as well as Chickasaw County.
The UCDA executive committee includes Michael Brown, Colt Doom, Tim Kent, Randy Owen and Walter Grace, along with executive assistant Joanne Lesley and whoever the current executive director may be.
Board members are supervisors president Randy Owen, mayor Tim Kent, supervisor Sam Taylor, alderman Will Tucker, Dr. Tommy Barkley, Mike Staten, Dave Kitchens, Alan Greer, president Michael Brown, Bill Rutledge, Rusty Berryhill, incoming president Colt Doom, Frankie Prescott, Walter Grace, Aubrey Blakemore, David Joiner, Joel Bennett and Chandler Rogers, board attorney.
Chamber of Commerce, New Albany, Union County, Union County Development Association