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OPINION: Who Will Lafayette County Empower to Guide Economic Future?

By Kevin Frye

The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors will again discuss the naming of appointees to the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation (EDF) Board of Directors on Tuesday after tabling the issue earlier this month for further discussions about the direction of the organization.

Kevin Frye

The critical duty to appoint members to the community’s board of economic policymakers arises once every four years – previous appointees’ terms expired on Dec. 31, 2019.

Discussions among community leaders about the adequacy and effectiveness of the EDF’s Economic Development Plan, last updated in October 2005, have intensified over the last year. Data gathered and decisions made during the implementation of the city of Oxford’s Vision 2037 Plan (adopted in 2016) and Lafayette County’s Comprehensive Plan (2017) enhanced community understanding of current economic priorities and altered the framework for future growth.

  • Oxford & Lafayette County poverty rates exceed the Mississippi average.
  • Emphasis on Lafayette County’s unemployment rate fails to recognize underemployment faced by many residents, particularly in the service sectors like retail sales, the restaurant industry, the hotel industry, etc.
  • “The Oxford area has lost 700 manufacturing jobs, with an average annual wage of about $51,000. In exchange, the area has gained 1,300 jobs in accommodation and food service, at an average annual wage of only $14,000. The concentration in lower-wage jobs has an impact on the housing market and the need for affordable housing. There is also potentially a need to diversify the area’s economic base to attract more higher-wage jobs that match the skills of the local labor force…Overall, the economic shifts have had a deleterious impact on wages and household incomes, which in turn impacts the affordability of housing for some workers in Oxford.” Vision 2037, Page 16.
  • Past economic planning efforts led to the prioritization of retiree and tourism attraction, helping grow jobs in the service sector. However, with baby boomer spending growth projected to peak in the 2020s and automation projected to eliminate many jobs within the service sector in the coming decade, continued economic growth and security for Lafayette County families require additional planning and pursuit of updated priorities as local and national fundamentals rapidly shift.

Lafayette County is the largest contributor to EDF, providing $165,000 per year or more than 40 percent of EDF’s annual revenue. The funds are collected via a special economic development tax levy of 0.3 Mills.

  • Supervisors appoint four members to the 20-member EDF Board of Directors who serve four-year terms that run concurrently with the terms of the Supervisors.
  • The last new appointee added to the EDF Board by Supervisors was in 2007. The other appointees have served continuously since 2005, 2000 and 1995.
  • In March 2019, the previous Board of Supervisors made a number of requests of EDF intended to spur much-needed progress toward updated economic priorities and policy. To date, the EDF Board has taken no official action to address these requests.

With two newly elected supervisors, recently updated comprehensive plans and new openings on the EDF Board, the Board of Supervisors has a significant opportunity to evaluate the direction of EDF as well as identify new business and community leaders who may be willing to serve and bring fresh perspectives and ideas to economic policy decisions that will impact Lafayette County’s economy for decades to come.

Kevin Frye is an Oxford attorney and former Lafayette County Supervisor

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