For almost six years, West Point has displayed a remarkable resiliency. The city has survived, if not thrived, since the closing of the Bryan Foods plant in 2007.
That is not to say times have not been difficult. Since the Sara Lee Corp. shut down operations in West Point, eliminating more than 1,200 jobs, unemployment in the city and Clay County has remained in the mid-to-high double digits.
And yet, the city has maintained and burnished its small-town charm while looking to the Golden Triangle Development Link, which it joined in January 2012, to revive the job market as it did in Lowndes County.
Up until now, aside from drinking at the vast well of enthusiasm that flows from charismatic Link CEO Joe Max Higgins, West Point and Clay County have had little to show for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it has poured into the Link.
But a ray of sunlight appears to have broken through the dark economic clouds.
Gov. Phil Bryant will call a special session of the Legislature to take up the matter of putting together an incentive package to entice a manufacturer to West Point.
It would be overstating the case to say that the special session is proof positive a major job producer will be coming to West Point. Certainly, as the disastrous Silicor project in Lowndes County demonstrates, the special session — while an important step in the process — remains a single step.
The reticence of area legislators and Higgins to discuss any details on the subject attests that the negotiations for the unnamed manufacturer, believed to be associated with the automobile industry, are very sensitive. In this age, where states are essentially competing in bidding wars for job producers, this should not be alarming.
But after six years during which the job prospects could be characterized as “All Quiet on the West Point Front,” there is cause for genuine, if guarded, optimism. Special sessions are not called without some real expectations nor are they are called for a company that wants to open shop and hire a few dozen employees.
What we can reasonably assume is the Link has big game in its sights.
It would be woefully premature to suggest a big employer is headed to West Point, based solely on the calling of a special session.
What kind of incentive package can be fashioned by the Legislature? Will it be a deal that turns the tide in West Point’s favor? We cannot know those answers at this point, obviously.
But in resilient West Point, this first step qualifies as a reason for optimism.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.