CLEVELAND — Having never lived in the Mississippi Delta before, everything I have experienced during my first year as chief executive officer for the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce has been from an outside point of view. I now know it is true what people say about the Delta: it is different.
And that difference for everyone who chooses to live here is positive. There is a feeling of strength and dedication like no other place I have lived.
The Mississippi Delta, and specifically Cleveland-Bolivar County through the dedication of its people, has experienced a tremendous amount of growth and change over the last 20 years. Yet there is a lot of opportunity for continued development.
It is evident that Bolivar County has always had a strong commitment to economic development. As you look at the establishment of Delta State University, the creation of the Port of Rosedale, the announcement of Interstate 69 and the Great River Bridge and the number of quality companies and businesses that currently call this county home, you can see that commitment.
Both the large multinational corporations, as well as the local entrepreneurial ventures, have recognized the potential in the Mississippi Delta and have become very profitable. The credit for past successes and potential for the future belongs to both those individuals who have taken leadership roles in the past and those who are still committed to progress today.
Cleveland has the proud honor of being included in both editions (1993 and 1995) of Norman Crampton’s book, The 100 Best Small Towns in America, a nationwide guide to the best in small-town living. The city is a member of the nationally recognized Main Street Program, which works for the progressive development of downtown businesses. Our local program is called Team Cleveland, which is a division of the chamber designed to promote and revitalize business districts with projects such as building restorations, improved streetscapes, window displays and signage. As a result of Team Cleveland’s efforts and because of Cleveland’s strong central business district and five shopping centers and many unique and upscale shops, Cleveland has continued to experience a steady increase annually in retail sales over the last decade.
Also located in Cleveland is Delta State University, which makes possible a number of cultural and recreational opportunities not usually found in communities of this size. Delta State offers citizens the resources of a major library, art complex, coliseum, sports stadium, planetarium, archives building and performing arts center. The Bologna Performing Arts Center is a 37,000-square-foot facility featuring a 1,200-seat auditorium, complete with state-of-the-art acoustics for theatrical and touring productions. The center is the only one of its kind in the Mid-South.
The unique nature of the Delta has inspired visitors from around the world. They come to Cleveland and Bolivar County to experience the many authentic cultural sites and sounds we have to offer. From the Delta blues music and food to the Mississippi River and its wildlife, we are just beginning to develop our designation as one of several millennium trails around the United States. Our trail will follow the old blues Highway 61 from Memphis to Vicksburg. Cleveland will be in the middle of this trail providing many opportunities for a variety of visitors.
Bolivar County has a very strong and diversified manufacturing base. Over 3,600 people are employed in some 34 companies.
With the location of new industry and the expansion of existing companies, over 1,300 new manufacturing jobs have been created since 1991, including Duo-Fast Corporation and Brandywine Foods Inc.
In January of 1993, Tyson Foods purchased Brandywine, increasing employment further. Baxter Healthcare remains our oldest and largest manufacturing plant with over 1,200 employees and our newest manufacturer is Royal Vendors, which began operation in October 1999.
Agriculture continues to be a strong factor in our economy, bringing in over $130 million annually in such crops as rice, cotton, soybeans, wheat, grain, milo and corn. Farmers are also finding a growing source of revenue in specialty crops, such as mushrooms, catfish, crawfish and more. Agricultural employment averages around 1,700 people.
Not only does Bolivar County have a great industrial base, but it also has an unlimited potential to locate new and expanding industry into the area. The county offers a number of attractive industrial sites. The Cleveland Industrial Park, for instance, offers more than 200 acres of fully developed sites. The Rosedale Industrial Park, located just south of the City of Rosedale, offers a total of 1,022 acres with varying site locations available as required.
Nearby is the 1,200-acre Rosedale-Bolivar County Port, which contains such facilities as a 20,000-square-foot terminal building and outside storage pads. From the big to the small — Shelby Industrial Park is a 40-acre, fully developed complex, while Scott Industrial Site offers 2,500 acres of land with 7,500 feet of Mississippi River frontage.
Most people find the Delta has an abundance of natural resources — from the Mississippi River and the fertile land it created to the perseverance of its hard-working people. These things mean a great deal to the people of the Delta and in the recruitment of new business and industry.
Scott Luth is executive director of the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce.