Video: G.T.R. LINK Responds To Starkville Decision

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Columbus, Miss. (WCBI) — In yesterday’s Board of Alderman meeting, the city of Starkville chose a new consulting group for retail recruitment, a service the Golden Triangle Development LINK already provides.

The board made the decision to go with Retail Strategies, which currently recruit retail for one hundred and thirty communities across the country. The decision adds strain to an already icy relationship between the city and the economic development organization.

“Anytime that something changes, I think it changes the nature of the relationship…”, said LINK CEO Joe Mac Higgins, “…the question is, how long, how bad. That’ll be the question and I don’t think any of us will know that until time expires.”

Higgins did say that he supports the Board of Alderman’s decision and that the two parties met last week to discuss the possible changes. Higgins added that the group will continue industrial recruiting, but will no longer play an active role in recruiting retail for the city.

Higgins said when it comes to certain projects, he wants “all of it, or none of it”, adding that doing a project solo would help eliminate any questions of responsibility if issues were to come from a certain project.

The Board of Alderman decision yesterday will also have no impact on the Academy Sports project, Higgins said, as well as any contracts or contractual obligations already agreed on.

Higgins also spoke about the issues the economic development group has had on the retail side with Starkville since the beginning of their partnership. Higgins believes one issue was the fact that the group did not report “every little detail” of projects with the Board of Alderman. The LINK CEO added that in their line of work, addressing all details isn’t possible.

“I think in a small town, the tendency is, the elected officials want to know every single detail as it goes along, and that’s probably why they deals don’t happen…”, said Higgins, “…when those details leak, the issues leak, the land cost goes up, one of their buddies foes and buys the land to try and flip it, just all kinds of problems can occur.”

Higgins also said he believed there weren’t any issues of communication from their side, but did address multiple issues the group has had with the city. Higgins said city officials wouldn’t attend one on one meetings and the group was unable to present projects in board meeting executive sessions.

“We brought all three chamber directors to talk about how we would do that and the Starkville chamber director showed up thirty minutes late and was on her cell phone the whole time…”, said Higgins. He added that the group requested the cities they partner with to send a list of possible retailers they would like to target, and to his knowledge, never received a list from Starkville.

“When we asked for help to drive one of our staffers arounf and look at lots and show property and…work with the chamber to figure out how that would work, we’re still waiting for that call to be returned to set up that meeting, and again in the other two communities, it’s happened like clockwork…”

Higgins did say, in the end, the decision is “probably best for everybody” and they will continue to recruit retailers for Columbus and West Point.

Starkville Ward Four Alderman Jason Walker said he hopes the decision does not impact the relationship the city has with the economic development group, citing their good work with industrial recruiting.

Walker did say in the current economic conditions, things have become specialized with niche markets at what groups are good at.

“I think [Retail Strategies] is really good at retail recruitment and I believe the LINK is very good at industrial recruitment…”, said Walker, “…I don’t know if it’s a knock at what the LINK didn’t do, I think this is an opportunity for us to sort of expand the level of recruitment and capacity that we have in the city of Starkville.”

Higgins believed the decision wouldn’t have any impact on the industrial recruiting, but did mention that one unknown company looking build a speculative building contacted the LINK Wednesday morning to say they will now hold off because of “the noise” concerns them. Higgins mentioned the decision wasn’t based solely on Tuesday’s decision, but more out of investing concerns.

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