Bay to create economic development committee

Bay St. Louis

Saying they are weary of waiting for the Bay St. Louis economy to rise from the doldrums, city council members decided this week to form an economic development committee made up of their own appointees.

Under the proposal, each of the seven council members would appoint one person to the committee, which will meet regularly. The goal is to pursue ideas that could attract dollars to the city, whether through more festivals, concerts, and other tourism-related events, or by recruiting non-polluting businesses to provide better than low-paying jobs.

“I would love to see a company come here that has jobs at more than $7.25 an hour,” Councilwoman Wendy McDonald said Thursday. She raised the development committee idea earlier this week, saying during a council workshop Monday that she would like to see a group formed “to take a little ownership of our economic development.”

Currently, the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission is in charge of overall economic development countywide. However, that group focuses primarily on the Port Bienville Industrial Park and John C. Stennis Airport.

The Chamber of Commerce also works to spread word on opportunities in Bay St. Louis, but city government itself does not have a formal operation dedicated exclusively to economic development. Former City Clerk Buzz Olsen handles some development tasks, among other things, after being reassigned from his previous job following the election of Mayor Les Fillingame.

But council members seem to agree that a development committee is a capital idea.

“The sooner the better,” Councilman Bobby Compretta said. “I wish we had done this years ago.”

“We should be trying not to have just one person responsible for our economic growth,” McDonald said. “We want to be proactive in our recovery, and not just hope something is going to happen.”

Council members feel that Bay St. Louis should be far more aggressive in pursuing new development ideas for an economy that has recovered at a tortoise-like rate in the years since Hurricane Katrina. The city still has no full-service grocery store, small businesses have continued to suffer or fail outright, revenues are falling, and real estate sales and closings keep lagging.

“I think time is of the essence,” Councilman Joey Boudin said.

Councilman Jeff Reed said a development committee “is a step in the right direction.

“Starting off, they might meet weekly and then taper down.”

Reed said his appointee would be someone with maturity and business experience.

“I’m looking for a business person … someone who has the burden, and knows what it takes to run a business,” he said.

Fillingame told council members this week that he also favored the idea, and would help coordinate an economic development commission after each council member has named a representative.

McDonald said she hopes to see action taken on the committee proposal at the next regular City Council meeting on April 16. Meetings are held at the Bay St. Louis Conference Center, 598 Main Street.

“Now instead of one person, we’ll have eight,” Compretta said.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast echo

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