Events that draw outsiders to a community are an excellent way to bring in new money to the local economy, show off the locale and create new jobs. When volunteers are involved, community pride is also enhanced.
Out-of-towners attending an event generally want and expect a well-run event, convenience, good restaurant selections, good shopping, and information on area attractions. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend two events that fulfilled these expectations.
The State Games of Mississippi is an event held annually in Meridian. It draws more than 2,000 athletes and their families, and according to the local media, has an economic impact of more than $4 million. This year was my first time to attend the event, my son being one of the participating athletes. I got a taste of just how huge this event has become when we were informed that all motel rooms in Meridian were sold out and that the nearest rooms were in Forest or Philadelphia. Given the number of new motels in Meridian during the past five years, I knew that there must be a lot of people in town. Fortunately, we were finally able to get a room in Meridian at the last minute.
The first impression of the community was that of the motel, which was about the same as any mid-priced motel. The first impression of the event, on the other hand, was incredible. The opening ceremonies were held in a large high school stadium, complete with an Olympic-style parade of the athletes, two skydivers, an on-field concert, fair-style booths, and a dazzling fireworks show. Organizers provided a good list of restaurants, maps to game locales and area attractions. Shopping was convenient and close at the Bonita Lakes Mall and surrounding area.
I also had the chance to attend a quite different event in Hattiesburg at the new Lake Terrace Convention Center. The first impression of the center was terrific. The building looks good from the outside, but it is the walk through the front door that provides the “wow” reaction. Upon entering the center, one encounters two large — and I mean large — overhead video screens depicting soothing scenes. The day I was there it was an aquatic theme. The meeting rooms range from mid-sized convention seating to an interactive video executive conference with high-backed chairs. On the right side of the lobby is the Convention and Visitors bureau offices, on the left is convention registration, and upstairs is the Area Development Partnership.
Having the Center has resulted in Hattiesburg being able to host events that otherwise would not have come to Hattiesburg. The facility is approaching its one-year anniversary and has already hosted 461 events involving 120,000 people. The economic boost to the area is estimated at approximately $6 million in direct new spending. This is a well-planned facility and one that is worthy of stopping by to visit on your next trip along U.S. 49.
These are just two examples of how communities in Mississippi are using events to bring in new money to their areas and promote pride in the local community.
My last column resulted in several communiques about how many jobs had really been created in Mississippi over the past eight years. I decided to go to the source. According to the Mississippi Employment Security Commission, the Establishment-based Employment in 1990 was 936,600, and was 1,119,900 in 1998. In other words, between 1990 and 1998 there were 183,300 new jobs created in Mississippi.
Phil Hardwick’s column appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is email@example.com.