This past week at the McComb Rotary Club, radio talk show host Dave Hughes gave a good presentation about the future of McComb.
He started by asking those who are optimistic about McComb in 20 years to raise their hands. About half of us did, and Hughes spent the next few minutes discussing some very legitimate warning signals that need to be addressed.
Among them: McComb’s sales taxes have fallen for two years straight while Brook-haven’s is rising. A lot of young people who grew up in McComb and Pike County now live elsewhere and may not come back. And nobody seems focused on the future.
These are all valid points. But I was among those who raised my hand; I’m optimistic about McComb’s future. I also have some ideas on what needs to be improved, and I agree with Hughes that it’s important to look forward instead of backward.
However, it may put things in perspective by looking backward for just a moment.
If somebody had discussed this topic in 1965, the year after McComb earned its nickname as “the bombing capital of the world,” how many people would have been optimistic about the city’s future?
Yet you can make the argument that the 20 years from 1965 to 1985 was a great period for the city.
Interstate 55 arrived. Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center opened. Delaware Avenue got four-laned. All this created new opportunities for commercial and residential development.
Nobody knows what the future will look like, but I’ll bet that residents of McComb in 1965 had no idea that they were on the verge of evolving from a railroad town to a retail and medical hub.
So here are some thoughts about how to move McComb into the future:
• First, let’s acknowledge the obvious. The city’s population has changed and is now 70% black. That means what happened in 2018 — the election of a majority-black city board — is going to continue.
One school of thought says majority-black boards will focus on everything but growth. I believe that at some point, everyone will realize that you can’t run a city without a growing revenue base.
For McComb, that means figuring out how to increase sales taxes, even at a time when all of us do some shopping on the internet.
By the way, there is hope for a recovery in sales taxes. At the Rotary meeting, Pat Brumfield pointed out that there was a lot of construction on I-55 and Smithdale Road during the last two years. He believes this reduced commercial traffic in McComb. We’ll find out soon.
• Commit to addressing McComb’s single biggest problem. A few years ago, I would have said this was street resurfacing. No longer.
Too many neighborhoods in town that once were pleasant residential enclaves are being overrun by unoccupied and rundown homes. Many of them are smaller and older and have outlived their usefulness. Painful as it is, they must be candidates for removal if we seek a better future.
The selectmen recently approved cleanup or demolition of about 10 such homes, but they already know that much more remains to be done. They must keep at it.
• The obvious next question is what to do with the vacant lots? The answer seems simple: Build replacement homes. But it’s not that easy. Many of these lots are small, and people who are buying want bigger homes today.
Of course, you can make a decent living by owning rental homes. But I think McComb has more than enough rental property already. Families that own a home will take better care of it. Balancing these competing ideas may be the biggest challenge of all.
That’s a starting point for the discussion. I left out things like recruiting more jobs to Pike County and appealing for unity among elected officials.
I cover the economic development board, so I know it’s working on a lot of projects. Plus, there is plenty of land available for commercial and industrial development. The jobs will arrive one day.
As for unity, that would be nice, but with a divided population, arguments are inevitable.
I cannot predict what McComb will look like in 2039. But I do know this: If we keep recruiting businesses, some of them will come here. And if we adhere to standards for property owners, the city will look nicer. Those are good places to start.