Opinion: Monday isn't only reason for optimism

Steve Rogers
By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

Monday is going to be a big day for West Point and Clay County. Gov. Phil Bryant is making his first official visit since the opening of Yokohama.

He's coming to announce a new tenant for the Americold Logistics building on Church Hill Road. It's a project that has been in the works for more than a year and will eventually bring as many as 300 jobs playing $15 to $17 an hour.

Work on the building has been underway for several weeks and the governor's visit will make official the investment by West Alabama-based Peco Foods.

On top of that, the governor will christen and tour the recently completed renovations at the Mossy Oak Center on Highway 45 Alternate.

The latest improvement will anchor the burgeoning retail concentration on the city's southern edge.

But while the Governor's visit is an obvious statement of good news, the city has some other quiet testaments to positive economic conditions.

For one, Mayor Robbie Robinson noted recently Navistar's employment is approaching 500 after dropping to 100 or so at one point not that long ago. Anyone who drives the roads near the industrial area where the plant is located has noticed the increased traffic in military vehicles being tested and moved in and around the plant.

Second, Prestage Farms, one of the community's quiet sleeper industries, is up to 300 workers. That's after hovering around 200 for a good while.

And finally, a lot of whispers in the economic development community say Yokohama is up to 600 employees and the long process of getting the plant operating smoothly is progressing.

That has prompted talk of a second phase.

When Yokohama first announced its decision to build in Clay County, it said it eventually could build four phases with a $2 billion investment. The announcement alone changed an entire mindset. But as the plant opened and operated for 30 months, some began to question the future.

Obviously talk of the second phase is just that -- talk, rumor, conjecture. But usually rumors like that have their basis in some fact.

Local governments haven't been asked to formally offer financial incentives but just the mention of it is enough to generate excitement in a community that still is recovering from a 15-year slump.
Throw in Monday's announcements and the other steadily climbing job numbers and there's reason for optimism.

TEE TIME

There's good news on some other fronts as well.

When it opened, Mossy Oak Golf promised to add to the golf spotlight already shining on the Black Prairie because of Old Waverly.

Last year, it was ranked the third-best new course in the country.

This year, entering its second full year of play, it's entered Golfweek magazine's list of Top 100 Modern Courses at No. 97. Golfweek defines modern as courses built since 1960.

The folks at Mossy Oak acknowledge rankings aren't everything. In many cases, surveys are subjective publicity stunts put out by companies or Web sites based on few facts.

But Golfweek is not the case. Its experts have a pretty good idea of what they are talking about so a new course making the list is an accomplishment. One that is not lost on the folks at Mossy Oak.

"In a small way, it's a validation of the vision established by the George and Marcia Bryan Family, Gil Hanse and the Mossy Oak Company when they set out to create a truly world-class, authentic golf experience that celebrates the local habitat," the course said in a release.

Even at No. 97, Mossy Oak beats out some tough competition. For instance, No. 99 is Trump National in New Jersey. At No. 98 is Erin Hills, home to last year's U.S. Open.

That obviously begs the question as to whether Clay County might find itself hosting another -- Old Waverly already was home to the 1999 Women's U.S. Open -- big event golf tournament one day.

Some other well-known course names also are on the list.

Places like Whispering Pines in Texas, Spyglass Hill at Pebble Beach, Muirfield Village in Ohio, TPC Sawgrass in Florida, Chambers Bay in Washington, and Butler National in Illinois.

Many lesser-known courses also are on the list.

But another reason Mossy Oak stands out is anyone can play. Yes, that's right, it's public. Many of the courses on the top 100 Modern list are private.

TAIL WAGGING THE DOG

I can’t decide whether to scream, laugh or just give up.

Monday’s explosion — or implosion — at the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau meeting was an example of the tail wagging the dog, once more, and three or four dogs letting it happen.

While I applaud it for at least trying, the CVB Board is and was the last group of people to call together the city and county leaders and state lawmakers as if the CVB is or was the controlling power. And for the city leaders and lawmakers to play along is a sad commentary on them.

It became a bad dog and pony show that was all about CVB survival, not the good of the community.

And this isn't just about a public shouting match between state Rep. Kabir Karriem and CVB Board Chairman Dewitt Hicks.

The CVB and the local governments need to understand that even if it just basic courtesy, Lowndes County's entire legislative delegation needs to be acknowledged and invited to the table.

As much as Columbus and Lowndes County leaders might hate to admit it, they might look to Starkville as an example, where the renewal of its tourism taxes sailed through this year without so much as a hiccup. Part of that was because of inclusion and leadership.

In Lowndes County's case,  state Sen. Angela Turner Ford represents almost as many people in the county as does Chuck Younger.

In the House, Carl Mickens represents a big chunk of the population. Karl Gibbs and Chiekh Taylor also have small slivers.

If they all got behind a proposal, Jeff Smith and Gary Chism may not matter, even if they do sit on influential committees.

But it shouldn't keep resorting to who has the biggest stick or most influence. It must get back to the good of the community. And until it does, we will end up right where we did Monday -- nowhere.

No one doubts the CVB's value or potential. It has done good things and the events it supports are valuable parts of the community fabric. The Wings over Columbus Air Show and Pilgrimage are the two largest examples that include many large and small. A number of upcoming sporting events, including a tennis tournament, belong on the list.

But those good things don't erase doubts about how it spends taxpayer money, how the value of those expenditures are measured, and basic accountability.

Joe Higgins, the CEO of the Golden Triangle Development Link, and I disagree sometimes. But in front of a number of local and regional business leaders recently, he told CVB Board member Mark Castleberry in no uncertain terms the issue is accountability and transparency.

Until the CVB is willing to address that, it is going to have trouble. And more and more people are going to wonder whether its current structure is best for the community.

On top of all that, you have legislators wiggling and waggling because they've gotten themselves caught in a crack and now are trying to save face. A month ago, if they'd shown some willingness to compromise, we wouldn't have ended up where we did Monday.

That makes the commentary all the sadder.’

Steve Rogers is the news reporter for the Daily Times Leader. The opinions expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the newspaper or its staff.

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