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Economic Developers Focus on Small Towns With Big Ideas

By Daniel Cherry | Published 12 Apr 2012 06:02pm | comments

Economic developers want to grow business in Mississippi, and they say it all starts in small towns. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how leaders say communities and cities need to be unique if they want to grow their local economy.

At the Mississippi Economic Council's annual meeting leaders from towns across the state heard advice on using their resources to grow business. Columbus has added several billion dollars in industry in the past decade, and Joe Max Higgins helped develop the area. When towns ask him for advice he says no two places are alike.

"A lot of towns will go visit other towns and say,'How did you do it? How did you do it?' Bad business. You've got to sit and look at your assets, what you're capable of doing, what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, and start playing to those."

Promoting tourism using Mississippi's rich cultural history is a big focus for developers. Blake Wilson, Executive Director of the MEC, says many towns have done well adopting the idea and that's partially why the state has been showing economic improvement recently.

"When you've got trend lines moving in the right direction, that's what you really want to (see). If you're looking to invest in a company, for instance, you want to invest in a company that's already at the top. You want to invest in a company that's showing trend lines of growth, and that's where Mississippi is today."

Mississippi's unemployment rate is still higher than the national average, although it has shown slow improvement. Governor Phil Bryant announced yesterday an initiative called Mississippi Works, a commission of 100 business leaders to think up new, big ideas for the state.

"We are going to enter a new phase here in Mississippi. I think you're going to see a rise in employment. I think you're going to see healthcare improve with our new medical zones. This is going to be a great, new, bright future that we have."

The majority of Mississippians don't live in cities. That's why developers say small towns are going to drive growth in the state.

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