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Members share booking information and promotion ideas

Ag centers form association to bolster market position

VERONA — Livestock shows aren’t all that is going on at the state’s many agricultural centers. Besides popular shows for horses, cattle and other livestock, the ag arenas are also hosting business and religious meetings, concerts, expos, sporting activities and much more.

“There is something different every week,” says Frank Swanger, manager of the Lee County Ag Center in Verona. “It does make it interesting, to say the least.”

Swanger is president of an organization formed earlier this year called the Association of Mississippi Agricenter Managers. The organization works to coordinate bookings throughout the state, promoting a full agenda of activities at the ag centers.

“The purpose of the organization is to get full usage throughout full year at each of the ag centers,” Swanger said. “If a circus coming through the state, we recommend other ag centers they might be interested in. We try to help each other out on bookings. We also share tips on how to best manage the ag centers.”

Mississippi is still one of the most rural states in the country, and the ag centers can be a place that not only promotes agriculture, but also recreation and other community activities. A number of the ag centers were built with matching $500,000 grants provided by the Mississippi Legislature.

Swanger said his facilities stays booked 45 weekends out of the year.

“The main purpose is to promote agriculture and 4-H kid events,” Swanger said. “But we also have motorcross racing, gospel singings, a fair, and lots of other affordable entertainment events. We will reach everyone in the community at least once per year. There is something there that is going to appeal to somebody.”

Swanger said the local motel and restaurant associations have commented that bookings at the ag center has a major beneficial impact on their business. The ag center works with the hotels to provide special room rates for events.

Interest in livestock, particularly horses, is high in Mississippi. Swanger said the first year they held a horse show they had 400 entries. This past year the number of entries had grown to 1,400 and the number of days for the show had to be extended.

The Lee County Ag Center also has meeting facilities that can host events such as wedding that you might not expect at an ag center.

“We do a lot of different types of things with this facility including some corporate meetings,” Swanger said. “We’ve done just a little bit of everything out here. I think it surprises people how much these facilities are used.”

The ag center’s 100-acre site includes a RV campground with 40 spaces.

Tommy Squires, manager of the Magnolia Center, a multi-purpose facility in Jones County, said their facility also stays booked with numerous kinds of activities including concerts and expos. Squires said the new Association of Mississippi Agricenter Managers has helped members do even better both managing the centers and keeping them booked.

“The idea was so we could help each other all the way across the state with the meeting facilities we have now,” Squires said. “There are times when someone else will have a chance to book an event you’ve held. We meet once a quarter, and it gives us a chance to talk about pricing, liability insurance, parking, and other day-to-day operation issues. We get a lot of good information. We’re growing.”

In the short time the Magnolia Center has been open, a large number of people have attended events there.

“It has been well received for the short time we have been open,” Squires said. “From January through June have probably have had 35,000 to 40,000 people come to events. I think that is a real plus to bring something like that to Jones County, and it isn’t just Jones County. All the surrounding counties who have these kinds of facilities see the same benefits.”

The number of ag centers in the state is growing, and Squires sees that as a positive. He thinks the centers compliment each other particular when they work together as a team to promote bookings and learn from each other.

For more information, Swanger can be reached at (662) 566-5600.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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