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Lafayette County is always angling for more employers

Bringing more jobs to the Oxford- Lafayette County community is often a lot like fishing, according to Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the chamber and Economic Development Foundation.

Every so often you might hook a whale, but most days, Maynard said it’s the tropical fish that he and his staff work each day to reel in.

On Wednesday, the chamber hosted its annual year-end lunch banquet at The Inn at Ole Miss where Maynard explained the difference between the whales — large industries, and tropical fish — smaller, sometimes professional or high- tech companies, and local, start-up businesses.

“We have to be innovative,” Maynard said. “And that means we’re not doing things the same way everyone else is doing them. We’re taking a new perspective with economic development.”

Maynard said many cities use the “top-down” philosophy with economic development.

“That’s when you bring in a large factory and hope the economy will follow,” he said. “That’s what we call whale chasers.”

Maynard said Oxford’s EDF uses the “bottom-up” philosophy, where if you build the community, the economy will follow. This puts the focus on quality of place, making Oxford and Lafayette County the type of communities that people want to live and work in.

Chasing the large factories and industries can be costly with large incentive packages being offered. They can put a strain on the local workforce and dominate the local economy. Many hours of work are dedicated to “chasing the whale,” and in many cases, it’s time spent for nothing as there is a lot of competition for whales among Mississippi cities.

“We do go after whales,” he said. “But we have a plan B.”

Creating a community that attracts the smaller business owner or smaller factories is what the EDF

works on daily. Maynard said the innovative philosophy is working

In 1999, the chamber had 390 members. As of this month, the chamber now has about 690 members. Lafayette County’s population has risen from about 38,000 to 57,800 and enrollment at the University of Mississippi has jumped from about 11,000 in 1999 to more than 20,000 this past school year.

In 2007, retail sales totaled $666 million and in 2015, that number has increased to $963 million.

“That means people are spending their money here,” Maynard said.

Chasing the large factories and industries can be costly with large incentive packages being offered. They can put a strain on the local workforce and dominate the local economy. Many hours of work are dedicated to “chasing the whale,” and in many cases, it’s time spent for nothing as there is a lot of competition for whales among Mississippi cities.

Policom Corp. recently ranked Oxford No. 17 among 536 micropolitan areas in the nation in terms of economic strength. The year-end celebration will continue to tonight with the second annual Red Carpet Gala black- tie fundraiser at The Jefferson on Highway 6 from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are still available at olccredcarpetgala.com.