Doug Loudenback at www.okctalk.com found the following report from the Madison County Herald Newspaper on a recent visit by a Mississippi delegation:
Madison County leaders study Oklahoma City Special to The Herald
Special to The Herald
More than 50 of the area’s community leaders recently traveled to Oklahoma City to participate in the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership’s city visitation program.
The delegation for the Partnership was comprised of business and political leaders from throughout the central Mississippi area.
“We wanted to visit a city that had already achieved a great success in areas where we have great potential, namely the biosciences and river front development,” said Duane O’Neill, president of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership (GJCP).
The delegation received an overview of Oklahoma City’s regional project and image campaign.
Jim Couch, city manager of the city of Oklahoma City, explained their Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS). MAPS, an ambitious program that’s one of the most aggressive and successful public/private partnerships ever undertaken in the U.S., was created in the early 1990s when public/private officials decided that something needed to be done to revitalize the area and create a new sense of community pride.
This was done by creating a series of nine public projects (concentrated in the downtown area) designed to enhance the quality of life in the area. These projects cost more than $3 billion and were completed over a period of years and funded by a temporary one-cent local option sales tax.
They included renovations to the Convention Center, Civic Center Music Hall and Oklahoma City fairgrounds, as well as construction of the 15,000-seat AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, the mile-long Bricktown Canal, the 20,000-seat Ford Center, the state-of-the-art Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, the Oklahoma Spirit trolley system and a stretch of water transformed into river lakes with trails and recreational facilities known as the Oklahoma River.
Due to Oklahoma City’s home rule authority, state legislation was not required to authorize the city to proceed with a vote for the local option sales tax. All that was required was the city officials calling an election and the proposal receiving voter approval. Once an election was called, only a simple majority vote was required for passage.
The areas of concern addressed by local participants were areas where Oklahoma City has excelled and where the greater Jackson area has the opportunity for similar success, according to O’Neill.
They included information about the Oklahoma River and Canal, the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park and “Sports as an Economic Engine.”
“I believe the overwhelming lesson we learned from our visit to Oklahoma City is that we need to put more effort in doing things to improve our region,” said Haley Fisackerly, chairman of the GJCP Board of Directors and president and chief executive officer of Entergy Mississippi. “The constant theme we learned from our gracious hosts in Oklahoma City was they got tired of being overlooked and decided that they were going to focus their efforts on investing in themselves. And they have been very successful. In a matter of 15 years they turned a very average city into an attractive city with a host of offerings to meet anyone’s taste.
“They simply realized that by investing in themselves they would improve the quality of life for their own people and eventually this would attract new investments in their city and it has… billions of dollars in new investments.
“We are now tasked with how can we bring our region together and develop a plan that will help us find ways to invest in our Capital City and surrounding communities and do so in a way that not only attracts new investments but improves the quality of life for the Greater Jackson area.”
Mississippi Sen. John Horhn (D-Jackson), one of the participants, agreed.
“Jackson can have success in improving its quality of life and economic development similar to what we saw in Oklahoma City. We’re not that far off, but what’s essential is a plan on how to best exploit our resources, a healthy dose of self confidence and unified action and a strong commitment to deliver on our promises,” Horhn said.
According to Stony Thomas of Nissan North America, one of the greatest accomplishments observed from this benchmarking trip was how well the community pulled together and supported the plans that were established to move the community forward.
“Although the plans were like a new frontier not crossed before (change), the path was traveled and the new destinations have been rewarding. I am confident that the great people of our communities can accomplish this and even more,” he said.
Madison County District 3 Supervisor D.I. Smith said the trip was an outstanding opportunity to meet business and political leaders from throughout the entire Jackson metro area and discuss challenges of common interest impacting various counties and cities.
“Oklahoma City is a display showing what can be accomplished through wise and careful use of local option sales tax, grants and tax increment financing,” he said. “Oklahoma City is the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. And the civic pride produces a spontaneous, contagious enthusiasm that was obvious from all who we came in contact with.
“It pointed out the daunting challenges and opportunities to excel we are presented with here at home,” Smith said. “Let’s go! Get motivated and fired up! Make a difference! It can be better!”
Pelahatchie Mayor Knox Ross thought it was a good template for the metro area to follow.
“They had a problem they couldn’t seem to solve,” he said “Much like the metro area has problems they can’t seem to solve.
“We were able to see how a community can come together to solve its problem.
“While obviously Oklahoma City is not metro Jackson, there are many ideas could be utilized to make positive changes.
“This trip was an excellent way for all of us in the metro area to get to know each other better and to develop trusting relationships.”
According to O’Neill, the trip proved the greater Jackson area is on the right track to enhancing economic development and quality of life by proceeding with projects such as the Capital City Convention Center.
“Also, it showed the importance of municipal home rule that gives municipalities more control over their destiny without having to seek legislative approval,” he said.
The lessons learned on the Oklahoma trip will be used by the Partnership in determining future programs and strategies for the greater Jackson area.