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MDA will gauge towns' curb appeal

In an effort to improve their curb appeal, Mississippi towns are lining up to have teams from the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) visit and assess their appearance. These municipalities will work to be recognized as Mississippi Model Communities, the program’s working title, according to MDA officials.

MDA executive director Leland Speed announced the new initiative at the Mississippi Municipal League convention in Biloxi in June.

To help municipal officials better sell their communities to prospective businesses, industries and residents, Speed proposes to have a group of professionals visit any incorporated area of the state to take a look at how its curb appeal may affect economic prospects. The evaluations will be made at no cost to the municipalities.

Speed, a longtime real estate executive before taking the helm at MDA, is convinced that good things happen in communities that look good. As he puts it, “Pretty sells. Ugly doesn’t sell.”

Stephen Martin of MDA’s communications department said, “With Leland’s background in real estate, it’s easy to call this initiative ‘curb appeal.’ He can relate to that.”

With no book to take off a shelf outlining the program, Martin said MDA is writing the criteria as they go along. Towns request to be included and an MDA evaluation team visits to observe, conduct interviews and hold meetings with a wide spectrum of the community.

“It’s an ongoing process and the communities will do the work, but we look at what we can contribute,” he added. “We work with them to decide what can be done to increase the town’s appearance.”

Yazoo City was the first municipality to receive a visit, and Martin said there was a good turnout for the meeting and the team conducted 60 interviews.

Speed said, “We are delighted to see the support and dedication of the citizens in Yazoo City as they embraced the concept of becoming a Mississippi Model Community. At MDA we see it and we are very impressed.”

He added that because MDA has limited resources to help communities improve the quality of life in their areas, he encourages private involvement. “What we will do is be a facilitator, a catalyst,” he said. “What we want to do is incite more private development.”

The Mississippi Business Journal was unable to reach the mayor of Yazoo City by press time, but did speak with the mayors of two other towns — Nettleton and Wesson — which have requested MDA evaluations.

At the ripe old age of 27 years, Nettleton Mayor Brandon Presley has already served three years as the leader of this town of 2,013 in the northeastern hills of Mississippi. He was the youngest person ever elected mayor in the state. He feels that Speed is doing the right thing by focusing MDA’s attention on quality of life issues as a way of attracting business.

“If we’re going to be competitive, we’re gonna have to address those impediments our town may have. We have to ask ourselves if it’s pretty and would we want to live there if we were moving into the state,” he said. “I hope with our evaluation we get an outsider’s look in. We don’t pick up on things when we drive down the same street every day.”

Presley believes every city in the state should take advantage of this program and develop a work plan to correct problems.

He recognizes the importance of technology in allowing workers to live in remote locations and do business with the world. As an example, Scientific Software, LLC, operates in a 100-year old bank building in Nettleton and does not have one customer there. The owner, Phillip Bausch, a software engineer, has lived there all his life. That’s the type of business Presley hopes to bring to the town.

“People can live anywhere and do business all over the world at all hours of the day and night,” he said. “I want to see us recruit those kinds of companies. Sure water and sewer and four-lane highways are important, but quality of life is what people are looking for now.”

In Southwest Mississippi, Wesson Mayor Alton Shaw is looking for fresh views and ideas to improve his community. He describes the town of 1,700 as a bedroom community with a number of residents working in Brookhaven, Hazlehurst and Jackson. The town is home to Copiah-Lincoln Community College, which also provides employment for residents.

“There are things we can do to make the town more visually appealing, and I hope to improve the curb side appeal of the main street,” Shaw said.

Assistant MDA director Gray Swoope described the new program as “Main Street on steroids.”

Attention will focus on entrances to the communities from someone else’s eyes, leadership, quality of life, business, workforce and infrastructure.

“These will be models of how MDA might direct some brainpower resources to help them,” he said. “MDA has great knowledge inside this building and we must get it out.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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