Residents of Ackerman have long known their Choctaw County town is a good place to raise children. Now, thanks to a national magazine, they have recognition that affirms that belief.
BusinessWeek lists Ackerman as number 20 on its list of the top 50 places in the country to raise children on less money. It’s the only Mississippi town on the list and is an honor economic developers are using for industrial recruitment.
“It sets us apart and fits in with economic development,” says Allan Bates, executive director of the Choctaw County Economic Development Foundation. “It’s part of creating a community that entices businesses to locate here and is a big part of the puzzle.”
He feels the municipality’s small town charm where everyone knows everyone along with good school system, low crime rate and low cost of living are factors that rated highly with the group surveying U.S. communities for the listing.
‘Together, not divided,’ mayor says
Newly elected Mayor Dick Cain says the town is “together, not divided” and a place where everyone participates in all that happens in the schools and community.
“We just started a cleanup campaign because that’s something that needs attention here,” he said. “We sent out letters and it’s coming along well. A lot of people have volunteered to help.”
He hopes to see more flowers planted, junk cars removed and a continuation of the cleanup campaign along with the building of a new fire station that’s set to begin in the next few months. Bringing more people back downtown with events and festivals is another goal of Cain, a retired oilrig manager for a Houston, Texas, company. The annual June Festival takes place this weekend (June 6 and 7) when streets are closed and downtown takes on a carnival atmosphere.
“We will use the magazine ranking to our advantage. Word gets around,” Cain said. “There’s been a lot of interest lately in renting and buying houses here, but there are less than 10 houses in town for sale or rent.”
Bates and Cain say the Ackerman public schools and the interest in youth activities play a major role in the town’s high ranking as a good place to raise children.
“The support given to youth here is tremendous,” Cain said. “Right now they’re playing baseball every night except Wednesday and Sunday, and you can’t get a parking space at the games.”
Although Bates concedes that Ackerman didn’t rate as high on the availability of recreational activities as he would like, the town is building a lake that will give young people more to do. “Children’s recreation centers around Little League, soccer and school activities,” he said.
Ackerman schools are part of the Choctaw County School District where Superintendent Donna Nail says residents understand that the state of the local educational system is an important factor in attracting industry.
“We believe we have excellent schools within the district,” she said “Our administrators work with their staffs to ensure that our schools are safe, and work diligently to reach every student on his or her level with the method by which each learns.”
The school district has one level five school, one level four and two level three schools. New to the superintendent position, Nail sees the level five status within reach of every school in the district, confident that each will soon reach that superior status.
“Policies are being put in place for next school year to see that our vision is realized,” she said. “We have observed people relocating their residency to our school district so their children can attend our schools. I believe this influx will only increase as our schools improve.”
These leaders are also working to bring more jobs to the area where there are presently three power plants and the state’s only active lignite mine.
“Energy is our niche,” Bates said. “We have $1.5 billion invested here in energy. That competes with the impact of Nissan although it’s not as many jobs.”
He is currently working with a couple of good business prospects with the realization that sometimes an area’s quality of life is the deciding factor on location.
“When you receive an honor such as this magazine ranking, you try to work it in all discussions and presentations,” he said. “It can only be helpful.”
Mayor Cain says many of the town’s 1,800 residents work in surrounding towns but quite a few are employed in the shops and hospital in Ackerman. He, too, hopes to see more residents living and working at home.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.