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Corinth prospers with manufacturing, tourism, medical

Corinth is almost in the state of Tennessee, but Mississippi is proud to claim this charming and thriving town in the northeast corner of the state. Officially settled in 1854, Corinth is the county seat of Alcorn County and has a population of 14,500. There are about 35,000 residents in the county. The area profits from manufacturing, tourism and healthcare.

Charles Gulotta is executive director of The Alliance, a county-wide economic development organization, and says city and county officials work closely together to advance the area.

“The city and county present a positive business climate, and we have a strong pool of community volunteers who work with the officials,” he said. “We also work closely with our partners in the private sector, the state and the Tennessee Valley Authority.”

Approximately 30% of the population — more than 4,000 people — work in manufacturing with an average annual salary of $33,000. That’s twice the percentage for the United States and almost twice the state’s rate. The annual economic impact is $140 million.

“Manufacturing is dominant right now and that’s what we do best,” Gulotta said. “We are a part of that quality industrial area of Northeast Mississippi and have a number of Fortune 500 companies here.”

A few of those companies include Caterpillar, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Quebecor World, Kingsford Manufacturing (Clorox bleach) and Tecumseh Products. Coca-Cola has a strong presence there also along with Mississippi Polymers and Corinthian Furniture.

Gulotta said the area currently has $115 million of economic development projects underway. That includes expansions at Kimberly-Clark, Kingsford and the local hospital, Magnolia Medical Center. “These projects are a point of pride,” he said. “We draw companies because we are at the intersection of two U.S. highways, have one of the finest community airports anywhere, have two school systems that continuously get the highest rating, and people come from outside the county and state for shopping, dining and medical needs. Sales tax figures continue to go up.”

Regional draw

Heather Boyd with Magnolia Medical Center says the hospital is a regional medical center drawing from a seven-county service area. “We currently have 50 practicing physicians, 915 employees and will be adding 22 more nurses and approximately 25 support personnel with our $42-million expansion that is opening soon,” she said.

The expansion includes a medical office building, expanded emergency room and additional triage area.

Tourism is growing in importance in this town known for a bloody Civil War battle in 1862 that opened the way for Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg. Just 23 miles to the north is the beautiful Shiloh battlefield park.

“We are right in the heart of where the Civil War took place,” says Del Horton, executive director of the Corinth Area Tourism Promotion Council. “Tourism has really taken off since the National Park Service opened the $9.5- million interpretive center in 2004.”

He says a lot of people visit Corinth to study genealogy and to take in the beauty of the area’s rolling hills. “We have tremendous tourism potential here that we’re trying to develop,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight and it’s a very tough, competitive industry.”

The tourism council does business as the Corinth Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and is funded by a 2% tax on lodging and prepared food inside the city. Horton estimates that tourism means about $1 million annually to the local economy. In 2005, tourism employment was 724 people representing 5.3% of the workforce. It is estimated that Corinth’s general fund received about $543,000 in FY 2005 from the state sales tax attributed to tourism. Corinth has 459 motel rooms.

“As America becomes more service oriented, a lot of towns are relying on tourism,” he said. “If we can get tourism moving to have people staying longer that would spur more rooms and restaurants here. We currently have about 70 local eating places so you won’t go hungry here.”

Tourism boost

Tourism will get another boost when the Crossroads Museum opens next month in the old train depot. The railroads determined the location of Corinth, originally known as Crossroads. In the 1860s, it was the site where the longest railroads in the nation intersected and crossed. That’s what much of the Civil War fighting that took place there was about. The railroad is still active in the town but the old depot, built in 1919, has not been used since 1988.

Horton says people in the area are very supportive of tourism and realize it has a lot of potential. He didn’t like having local people question why visitors would want to come to Corinth, so he rented six buses that seat 55 passengers each and took residents on a tour of their own county. It was so successful he’s doing it again this year.

“We treated them like tourists and it opened their eyes,” he said. “I love it when someone says ‘I didn’t know that was here.’”

Horton himself first came to Corinth as a visitor because he was interested in Civil War history. While in the U.S. Army, he visited Shiloh and heard about Corinth; visited Corinth and loved it.

“Growing up in Orange County, Calif., you don’t learn much about the Civil War,” he said. “I moved here in 2000 when I saw an online ad about a position promoting the Civil War. When you love a place, it’s easy to promote it.”

He says he likes to tell people that Corinth is the closest they’ll get to heaven without dying. Nothing pleases him more than witnessing the surprise some visitors have when they visit there. “I’m so proud of that when they let us tell them who we are,” he said.

Gulotta says no story about Corinth is complete without mention of its fantastic downtown, a real jewel. Horton agrees, noting the old buildings still in use dating from 1879 through the 1930s. About 47 apartments have been converted in the upstairs quarters of some of those historic buildings.

There are several businesses that have been owned by the same families for many generations. Also, there are new boutiques adding variety to the retail mixture.

“Downtown is alive,” said Horton, who lived downtown for a while. “It’s wonderful. The Dollar General store has become a small grocery store because it’s in walking distance of the apartments.”

Part of that vitality takes place every Thursday evening with “Picking on Court Square.” It’s live music by area musicians and moves into the 999-seat coliseum during the winter and bad weather.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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