GOODMAN — Imagine a small town with no retail outlets to generate sales tax income to provide government services. A town with no grocery store. No gas station.
That would have described the Delta town of Goodman, population 1,285, located approximately 50 miles north of Jackson in Holmes County, until recently. For a decade people in Goodman, a predominantly low-income minority community, have had to travel elsewhere to shop. Since many residents don’t have reliable transportation, lack of a local grocery store was a burden.
But no more. In mid-November a new concept in retail was launched in Goodman. Atlanta entrepreneur Diedrick Thomas has opened stores that create a “mini Wal-Mart” environment that includes a New Deal grocery store, a New Dollar store and a place to pay bills.
Thomas used a low-interest loan provided through the Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA) Rebuild Mississippi program to renovate an existing building to house the new stores.
“This is a mini Wal-Mart — a one-stop shop where you can pay bills, shop for groceries and shop at the New Dollar store,” Thomas said. “I grew up in Pickens, just south of Goodman. I decided to come back to Goodman because I saw a business need, and felt the town needed something. Bringing that store in created 87 construction jobs and 20 jobs on a continuous basis. It has meant a lot for the town.”
Thomas also invested in alternative energy technologies such as solar lighting and hot water heating that he believes will decrease energy costs over the long term, allowing him to re-invest more money into the business. That fits with the theme of the owner’s business in Atlanta, Thomas Consulting Group (TCG) Inc. (www.tcgtoday.com), whose slogan is “Generating Tomorrow’s Solutions Today.”
TCG provides services in the areas of project management, supply chain management, systems integration, logistics, distribution and strategic/business planning. Thomas said his company’s strength is strategically applying the most advanced technological and operational strategies available to create a competitive advantage by increasing productivity and efficiency.
The Goodman enterprise may serve as a model not just for other cities in Mississippi, but also elsewhere in the country. Thomas has already had inquires from other towns in Mississippi, as well as from Chicago, Atlanta and areas in Texas.
“Our focus is growing inner city communities,” Thomas said. “Right now we are looking to expand to other areas next year like Mound Bayou, and also places in Atlanta and Texas. This is just the beginning of something that will be expanded throughout the nation. A lot of mayors have contacted me. Our goal is not just to make money. By coming to those areas, we improve economic development for those areas, as well. Just by coming to Goodman, we are saving a couple businesses that have come back to Goodman.”
The City of Goodman is a partner with MDA in the Rebuild Mississippi program.
“What that program does is look at opportunities for renovation and bringing back the vitality of the community by looking at energy opportunities,” said Kenneth Calvin, director of the MDA Energy Division. “That store renovated by Diedrick Thomas was vacant and falling in. We looked at it to see what we could do to make the building more energy efficient. The project is one that demonstrates the new types of technology that can go into those kinds of buildings to make them more energy efficient. This project serves as a model for other communities.”
Calvin said it isn’t often that you hear of economic development being led by new energy technology, but that is the case here.
Increasing employment and tax revenues can have a domino effect that leads to more revitalization.
“When you start having that kind of activity and revitalization, you inspire other businesses around you,” Calvin said. “You see people renovating other buildings and starting other businesses. As you have more people with jobs, and customers being attracted to the area, there are more economic development and growth opportunities.
“Keep in mind this was a community that was not growing. Nothing was happening in that community. When that happens, you have more people leaving the community than coming in. We are trying to be a catalyst to turn things around, showing that by saving energy, you can put those resources back into the business.”
The alternative energy devices included a solar hot water heater, natural gas heating, photovoltaic lighting and energy-efficient conventional lighting.
A lot of people look at large industrial developments like Nissan in Canton and recognize their importance to economic development. In its own way, the New Deal/New Dollar stores were just as significant to the town of Goodman.
“Small, older communities don’t have a lot of resources,” Calvin said. “If we can be the catalyst where the economic development tree starts growing, we are doing a good thing. That is why Rebuild Mississippi is so successful. This is not fluke. This is something that can be duplicated.”
Assistance from the Energy Division and Minority Business Enterprise were used to help with not just the New Deal/New Dollar store, but a number of other Goodman revitalization projects financed by a combination of public and private programs.
“Mayor Debra Mabry’s enthusiasm was a big factor,” Calvin said. “When I look at what has happened on this project, I see Wal-Mart on a smaller scale. These communities don’t have resources for Wal-Mart.”
Verlina Underwood, supervisor of grant programs for Rebuild Mississippi, said prior to the opening of the New Deal/New Dollar stores, Goodman wasn’t generating enough taxes to even pay all of its utility bills. Now they have a business generating significant taxes — and a lower energy bill. As part of a Rebuild Mississippi grant, the city installed solar energy security lighting in the town.
“The mayor’s concern was trying to lower her utility costs and form a tax base,” Underwood said.
The town’s motto is “The Lil’ Town That’s Making a Difference.” And the proof of that statement is in this project that has already greatly enhanced the economy of Goodman, and has the potential to have impact in other similar communities, as well.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.