Column/Tale of faith, regionalism and a cooperative spirit can be a lesson to us all

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 11, 2007

Northeast Mississippi, world renown for a furniture manufacturing industry that rivaled North Carolina’s, had watched as thousands of local jobs shifted from the hills and hollers of the region to China and Mexico where raw materials were cheap and labor even cheaper.

As someone who lived in Northeast Mississippi for three years, I bore witness to the layoffs and job cuts and sat through many a meeting where people were wringing their hands wondering what the future held for their family and friends as paychecks declined and unemployment rates rose.

Five years ago with the region looking at a bleak future, 15 men who make up the boards of supervisors (county commissioners to us) of three counties in Northeast Mississippi took a chance and formed a three-county alliance with their respective counties agreeing to create an economic development zone in hopes of luring a major industry to the area.

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The PUL Alliance, as it became known because of the counties involved, Pontotoc, Union and Lee, established a 1,700 acre megasite near Blue Springs in Union County. Later to become known as the Wellsprings Project, the counties agreed to share in the expense of acquiring the land and also hammered out a plan to share the profits that would hopefully come like water from one of the many natural springs in the area.

The supervisors’ dreams &045; and prayers &045; came true last month when the Toyota Motor Corporation announced to the world that the company was building a $1.3 billion vehicle assembly plant on the Blue Springs megasite creating 2,000 direct jobs with thousands more jobs to support the plant.

After Toyota made it official, it was obvious what had brought the project to the people of the region; the ability to work together no matter where a state map says your county line ends.

Although there were a lot of state and federal politicians at the announcement trying to find a way to take credit for the project, Lee County Supervisor Charles Duke, chairman of the PUL Alliance, brought it back home.

I do too, Charles.

The story that is being told about what happened in Northeast Mississippi should be a lesson to those in the Black Belt who have the ability to replicate such an alliance.

When it comes to economic development in a non-metro area, regionalism and a cooperative spirit can overcome a lot of obstacles.

The PUL Alliance proves that and it’s something that we as a community and region can learn from if we’re open minded enough to see the possibilities of what we can become.

Those 15 men saw it and they didn’t let the fact that they lived in different zip codes stand in the way of creating an opportunity that will feed, clothe and house many generations to come in the region.

They realized they were ultimately responsible for their fate, and the fate of their children and grandchildren and it was up to them to make their own future.

There will be those who read this that might say I’m asking the impossible or that it could never happen here because of our past inability to get along, or our lack of infrastructure or some other excuse, but my response to them would be that our lives are what we make of them.

If we continue to decide to be the &8220;step child&8221; of the state and nation or a third-world country as The Birmingham News characterized us in an article a few years back, that’s what we will be and our children and grandchildren will be pay the price.

I firmly believe that while our past is already written, it’s our future that has yet to be told and ultimately we have the power to make it whatever we want it to be.

All it takes is the spirit of cooperation and an open mind. Oh yeah, a little faith doesn’t hurt either.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712 or by email: