Thursday, January 19, 2006

Byhalia leaders focus on planning, training

Contributing Writer

With the first few weeks of 2006 in the past, Byhalia Area Chamber of Commerce and police officials are making headway with plans for the new year that include training, the launch of an information website and the formation of a business watch program.

Sarah Sawyer, Chamber of Commerce executive director, said 2006 will be a year of expansion for the Chamber with focus being placed on increasing membership, updating a membership directory and building upon already existing programs.

The Chamber also hopes to launch its web site, in the coming months.

“It is a big project that we have been working on since last year,” said Mika Joyner, Chamber board president.

Features that will be offered on the web site include Chamber business profiles, local, county and state information, an event calendar, maps and news. The web site will be an invaluable tool for area residents and business owners as well as those who are considering Byhalia as a future home or business location, Joyner said.

Aside from gearing up for 2006, the Chamber is also looking farther ahead, Sawyer said.

“One thing we would like to do is strategic planning to help get us on track for the future,” Sawyer said. “We are making progress, but are growing so much.”

The Chamber of Commerce had 256 members as of Jan. 10.

Chamber officers met Jan. 11 to approve a calendar of events for 2006 that includes meeting dates for Byhalia by Choice, a community development task force; Picture This, a business networking program; quarterly membership luncheons and fundraising events.

The Chamber also approved dates for the second LeadershipPlenty training program sponsored in conjunction with the Marshall County Community Development Committee, Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce and Mississippi State University Extension Service. The program will kick off Thursday and continue through June 20. In its inaugural year (2005), 26 business, community and government leaders completed the program.

Whereas the Chamber is focusing on expansion this year, Police Chief Mike Novay said 2006 will not be a year for new hires. Instead, the department will be concentrating on training.

“We will be cramming as much into everybody’s heads as they can handle,” he said. “We want to improve upon what we have and bring [our officers’] proficiency level up.”

The Byhalia Police Department has eight full-time and six-part-time officers.

Novay hopes the department’s training will not be limited to internal personnel, but rather spill over to the business community. Information about the business watch program is being distributed in hopes of forming a network of businesses that look out for each other and share information with the department.

“We’ve had a splash over of crime from the metro area, and [businesses and the department] need to feed off each other,” Novay said. “We need to be aware, share information and work together.”

Novay said Byhalia sees little crime in residential areas, but that crime in commercial areas recently saw a spike when, on the weekend of Jan. 7 and 8, six businesses were burglarized.

“A similar situation took place in Olive Branch somewhere, and we think we have some links,” he said. “But when six businesses in a small town like this are hit, [investigation] consumes us.”

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