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MC grad returns to state to lead Canton chamber

It’s a small world

CANTON — In the carefree, prosperous years of the 1990s, Patrick Emanuel was in the right place at the right time — working for a tremendously wealthy software company and traveling the world.

Now, in the midst of a recession, layoffs and the dot-com meltdown, Emanuel knows he has once again landed in the right place at the right time as the new director of the Canton Chamber of Commerce/Main Street Association. Since coming to this small city in December, he has hit the ground running with plans for a sister-city relationship similar to that of Madison, support to Nissan as the plant joins the community, and continue to foster strong relationships with the local convention and visitors bureau, Madison County Economic Development Authority and the Canton Redevelopment Authority.

Emanuel is not a native of Canton, not even a native of Mississippi. He did earn a degree from Mississippi College and claims relatives in just about every county in the state, who he visited often during his childhood.

“I always knew I’d come back to the South, to Mississippi,” said Emanuel.

After college, Emanuel went to Germany to work for the non-profit USO (United Service Organizations), then spent several years at MicroStrategy in marketing and business development in the U.S. and Germany before that company got into financial trouble.

“MicroStrategy was one of those companies that people read about in the paper. We were going on cruises to the Caribbean as a company, going to Europe as a company, buying Super Bowl ads for $5 million.”

He returned to Germany to work for a Munich-based software company, but left the company in 2001. That’s when he took several months off to travel the U.S. and Europe and think about what he wanted to do.

“I did not enjoy the nature of my work,” he said. “I did not take real pride in it. I wanted to return to a more community-oriented focus, like my work with the USO.”

When Canton’s longtime chamber director Deborah Anderson decided to retire, friends at the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) encouraged Emanuel to take a look at the job, and surprisingly, this world traveler found his place in Canton.

Plans for Canton

With Canton’s rich history, it’s no surprise that Emanuel’s office is located in the historic train depot. Trains stopped running through the downtown depot in 1995 when Amtrak moved its passenger service to the Yazoo City line. With plans for renovation, the Canton Redevelopment Authority had purchased the depot from the Illinois Central Railroad in 1991, and in 1999, the depot was transformed into the Canton Train Museum. The Chamber’s offices take up a small section of the attractive building.

Eleven weeks into the job, Emanuel has many plans for the Chamber. This month, he hosted a breakfast to get know local tourism and economic development leaders better and learn their plans for the coming year.

Jo Ann Gordon, executive director of the Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau and Film Office, said she is looking forward to working with Emanuel. “We’re always glad to have new economic development partnerships,” said Gordon.

On Feb. 28, the Chamber will sponsor a community-wide workshop given by the MDA, Entergy, Mississippi State University Extension Service and the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Community and Economic Development. Chamber members and other leaders in the community will participate in a day-long workshop on community strategic planning.

Emanuel would also like to create a sister-city program similar to Madison’s successful relationship with Solleftea, Sweden. He has already spoken to several mayors in German cities of comparable size to Canton.

“Because of my background, it’s something we could easily do,” said Emanuel, who speaks fluent German. “It would be an exchange of commerce, exchange of culture, exchange of thoughts and ways of life. One of the positive outcomes would be that the people of Canton would see themselves more as a community. It would create the idea of Canton as a whole, having an exchange program with another community halfway around the globe.”

Emanuel would also like to support Nissan in any way possible.

“Nissan chose their name as Canton Nissan, and that being said, the chamber and the Canton community desire to be their main point of contact for the area,” he said. “They’re identifying with this community, so we want to be sure we’re dong everything possible to meet their needs.”

A membership drive is also underway this month to boost the chamber’s current membership of approximately 215 members.

Since he started Dec. 1, Emanuel said all corners of the community have welcomed him. He views his newcomer status as a positive, not a negative, because many people consider him an objective party as an outsider to this small town.

“There are certain power struggles that continue, but my policy is there is no longer any time left for that kind of attitude,” he said. “In my opinion there are only two kinds of people. Either you’re for Canton as a community, or you’re for yourself or your own private agenda, which hurts the community.

“Having been here just a short time I realize Canton possesses all the components for a successful and growing community,” he continued. “The challenge is putting all those components together and working as a team to move this community forward. That’s where I want to see our Chamber add value to our members and the community.”

For more information on the Canton Chamber of Commerce, call (601) 859-5816 or e-mail ccoc@netdoor.com.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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