The 37th annual meeting of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County and the Jones County Chamber of Commerce was held at The Gables on Wednesday.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Jones County is open for business,” said EDA Chairman Jason Hoffman at the lunch banquet. “In the coming weeks, we will travel to Jackson and meet with our State Economic and Development team. We will represent Jones County and let them know that we want to be on the top of their list for potential site candidates for [incoming businesses].

“We are excited about the potential of the Interstate 14 legislation, which will run from Texas to Georgia and designate Hwy 84 as an interstate corridor. There’s a lot of exciting things happening on the horizon. I can not wait for the next few years to see where the road leads us.”

Board Chairman Lowell Howell also spoke on behalf of the Jones County Chamber of Commerce.

"We ended the year with the highest number of members ever," said Lowell Howell. "This month, we've added another five, so our growth continues. We've welcomed more than 20 new businesses by hosting their ribbon-cuttings."

Howell presented a gift to Alicia Walker, who served as the Chamber’s first Board Chairman from 2016-2019.

"The Chamber of Commerce has come a long way since we'd officially formed in 2016," said Howell. "That, in large part, is due to our leadership from our very first Board Chairman Alica Walker. Alisha served for five years on our Chamber Board and after a three-year stint as the Board Chairman, member of multiple committees, and countless hours volunteering at events. I'm sad to see the end of her second and final term, but there is no doubt that her vision, leadership, and energy created the solid foundation on which we are building on top of today."

In closing out his time on the stage, Howell recognized Andrew Ousley as the 2021 Jones County Chamber of Commerce Ambassador of the Year at the banquet.

'The Chamber's Ambassador program is made up of members who serve as extra eyes and ears in our business community," said Howell, who presented the award. "They play a huge role in reaching out to current members as well as new members. They also volunteer at events and are on hand at ribbon-cuttings. The Chamber is stronger because of the time and effort they give.

“Our Ambassador of the Year is a true example of the qualities that embodies a successful ambassador. He was always willing to jump in when needed.”

Ousley serves as the Skill Development Manager at Effectv for Comcast.

“Even though his role [at his job] over the summer changed,” added Howell, “his contributions as an Ambassador over the past 18 months is more than deserving of this honor.”

EDA President Ross Tucker announced the re-election of George Bassi and Doug Jefcoat to the EDA Board in a paper ballot election that took place earlier in the meeting. He also welcomed two new members to the Chamber's Board of Directors.

“I would first like to thank George Bassi and Doug Jefcoat for being re-elected to the EDA Board,” said EDA Director Ross Tucker. “I also would like to welcome two of our newest Chamber members, Romika Wells of Sanderson Farms and Lydia Walters of Dixie Electric. Both were nominated and elected to join the Chamber Board. I know that I speak on behalf of both boards, as well as the staff, in looking forward to working with them.”

Former Mississippi State baseball coach and current Assistant to the Mississippi State Athletic Director Ron Polk was the guest speaker.

"My profession for years was coaching baseball, which required me to win more games than I lost if I wanted to keep my job," said Polk. "You as businessmen and women must also achieve more wins than losses on a daily basis for you to keep your job and for people to be pleased with your work ethic."

"You are here because you care about Jones County," added Polk. "You want this place to be a better place to work, live, and raise a family. In my 56 years of coaching college baseball, I learned what makes one person successful and one not successful, what makes one baseball team really good and what makes one not so good, what makes one Chamber of Commerce excel, and another one may be going along for the ride. It all boils down to who wants to make a difference. This world, this country, this state, this city needs more difference makers. I wanted to be the coach and not a coach. The same goes for you in your profession. We should want everyone in this room to be a difference-maker."

Several local political figures were in attendance, including the mayor of Laurel Johnny Magee, mayor of Ellisville Lynn Buckhaults, and Sanderson mayor Bob White.