Summit Looks to Future

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In June 2003, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and then-Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove agreed to begin developing a joint project to attract businesses to the rural and mostly poor area of west Alabama and neighboring east Mississippi.

But both Riley and current Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour canceled an appearance at a conference with other politicians and business leaders Friday. Both addressed the group by telephone.

The 2nd Annual Leadership Summit, sponsored by the Commission on the Future of East Mississippi and West Alabama, convened at the University of West Alabama.

Riley endorsed a proposed joint economic effort.

"I think the ability to work together, to combine resources, to stop competing against each other and work in a collaborative effort and join the financial and economic resources we have offers a tremendous opportunity," Riley said.

Barbour said a Mississippi "one size fits all" economic policy won't work.

"So we're trying to develop economic development strategies for every region of the state and one of the places where we will learn a lot is through your east Mississippi and west Alabama initiative," Barbour said.

All agreed economic development and education go arm in arm but funding was a major part of the problem.

"We can make progress but we need more funding to do, reach the level that we need to reach," said Dr. Tommy Davis, president of East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Miss.

"If you cut back your resources just because they're being reduced everywhere, you can't accomplish your goals," said Dr. Richard Holland, president of UWA. "We have such responsibilities that we just have to set priorities, find the money and keep going."

"I think they've stated the problem correctly and they proposed some solutions. Whether there is a collective will to carry that through I can only speculate about," said Dr. Charles Lee, president of Mississippi State University.

Dr. Tom Wacaster, vice president of the Hardin Foundation in Meridian, which provided financial backing for the conference, agreed there is a crisis.

"Unless we work together on these sorts of issues, the rest of the world is going to go away from us," said Wacaster.