Joe Max Higgins, chief executive officer for the Golden Triangle Development LINK, will soon serve the area in an additional role.
On Wednesday, Lowndes County supervisors unanimously appointed Higgins to the Board of Trustees for East Mississippi Community College. The appointment came several months after the opening of Communiversity, a $42 million workforce training facility for EMCC that the Higgins-led LINK helped develop on Highway 82 in Lowndes County.
The seat on the board was vacated by former county appointee Lance Walters, who resigned from the position in December to move to Brazil for a new job. Higgins was the only applicant for the board seat, said Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley. He will finish Walters’ tenure, which lasts through March 2023.
EMCC has two campuses, a main campus in Scooba and a satellite in Mayhew, along with the Communiversity. Each county in EMCC’s service area — Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay, Noxubee, Kemper and Lauderdale — has two members on the college board, all of whom are appointed by the respective county’s board of supervisors.
Higgins said in a Wednesday press release that many Lowndes County citizens encouraged him to apply for the position.
“As a general rule, I don’t serve on boards but the success of EMCC is vital to our success as a region,” he said. “Lance will be really difficult to replace and I look forward to working with the other board members to get the finances on more stable ground.”
EMCC has been laden with financial woes over the past decade as its operating fund balance dropped by more than $10 million primarily due to high athletic spending and declining enrollment. EMCC’s board “deadlocks” on issues between its northern and southern county members, both of which hold different priorities, said Harry Sanders, president of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.
While the northern county trustees look to bolster workforce training and make the Communiversity a success, he said, the southern county trustees more highly prioritize athletics. Specifically, the nationally renowned football program has won five national championships and is, in many ways, the face of the school.
“(The trustees) have not been able to appoint a sitting president to that board,” Sanders said. “The three southern counties are all for funding their athletic program …; the three northern counties want to fund economic development and education.
“As of right now, (the board) is dysfunctional,” he added. “Nothing gets done.”
Sanders said it’s crucial to have Higgins fill Walters’ shoes and advocate for economic development. Faced with the fund balance drop, Sanders said he hopes that Higgins will help hold the trustees accountable and bring more financial oversight to the EMCC.
“Not just the Communiversity,” Sanders said. “For the whole school.”
EMCC President Scott Alsobrooks said the board members get along well with each other. “Sometimes we just got different viewpoints on things,” he said. “I do think they care most about our students and helping our students move along their life and better themselves, and there’s no gridlock in that reserve.”
On the appointment of Higgins, Alsobrooks said the LINK CEO is a “superstar” with expertise in economic development to guide the college forward.
“(He’s) a really good fit to have … to govern the college and make us better at what we do, particularly when it comes to workforce development,” Alsobrooks said.
Yue Stella Yu was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.