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Excitement building for Jackson Convention Complex opening

For the many people who dreamed and schemed for years to give Jackson what most state capitol cities take for granted-a convention center-excitement is building with the fact that the Jackson Convention Center (JCC) is now 71% complete with more than $1 million in business scheduled already for the first year.

“The entire community in the metro region is very excited about the opening of the building for several reasons,” said Linda McCarthy, general manager of SMG, the venue management/ marketing development firm for the Jackson Convention Complex (JCC). “It is a project that has been in the works for a long time. A lot of people and organizations got behind this project years and years ago. Now we are finally seeing it come to fruition. The hard work is paying off. In addition, with just over a million dollars in regional and national business booked for the first year of operation, the excitement is there because it truly shows that if you build it, they will come.”

A major milestone came in early August when the air conditioning was turned on. McCarthy said that is a positive development because even if there is rain, it should not slow down the project because they are working inside now.

The project is on schedule and within the budget.

“That is all you can ask for when you are building a $65-million convention center,” McCarthy said. “A major grand opening is planned in mid-January that will showcase one of the many good things happening in downtown Jackson. The rebirth and revitalization of Jackson has been a long time coming for a lot of people.”

After the complex opens, Jackson will be able to compete with other large cities in the region like Memphis, Shreveport, La., Baton Rouge, La., and Birmingham, Ala., for regional and national conventions. The city has never before had the opportunity to compete on that level.

Having the latest and greatest in convention center facilities and amenities should be a big draw for the JCC, which is being seamlessly joined with the Mississippi TelCom building to provide a total of 330,000 square feet under one roof.

“Certainly any time you open a new convention center, you go through what they call a honeymoon period,” McCarthy said. “People want to book a building and use it because it is new. We have never had a convention center in the City of Jackson. We have never been able to compete before. Jackson has lost a lot of business because we haven’t had the space. The building will have the bells and whistles you must have to remain competitive.”

Having so much space under one roof is a requirement of many convention groups. And having a large number of hotel rooms available nearby is another. McCarthy said there will continue to be some challenges meeting the requirements for hotel rooms, but a number of hotel projects on the drawing boards should help on that situation in the next couple of years.

For the business community and people who live in Jackson, the facility will be a major boost to the quality of life. Another mission of the JCC is economic impact.

“We create jobs,” McCarthy said. “We are bringing in new money to the city which helps with state and local taxes. From a business standpoint, we are putting money into restaurants and hotels. That new money turns over in the community so there is an economic impact from this facility on the city and the state. We’re going to be spending hundreds of thousands a year on goods and services. Our main mission is to contract with all locally owned and operated companies. They in turn have to hire people to serve the convention center. So it is a constant domino effect.”

The convention center is a monument to Jackson’s success being able to host larger meetings and more regional and national business than ever before, said Wanda Collier Wilson, president/CEO of Jackson Conventions & Visitors Bureau (CVB).

“The CVB has been selling the center since the voters decided in 2006 that Jackson would indeed build a first-class convention center,” Wilson said. “We are continuously working diligently at the CVB to aid SMG’s efforts and look forward to the grand opening of the JCC as well as welcoming the host of visitors it will bring to the capital city.”

Dr. Bob Neal, senior economist at the Mississippi Institution of Higher Learning, said the project will have a major economic impact.

“When you consider the primary and secondary jobs this project will create, about 950 jobs will be generated in many areas including construction, the hotel and food industry, as well as professional services,” says Neal.

The project is expected to have a particularly positive financial impact on local, small and minority-owned businesses, helping provide significant opportunities for entrepreneurial success and expansion in Mississippi.

Richard Speights, director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Small & Minority Business Development Division, said the JCC will open the door to success for aspiring entrepreneurs, and help build a greater capacity for existing small and minority business enterprises that take part in the construction and operation of the facility.

“The convention center development is an enormous gift to the metropolitan area,” Speights said. “As Mississippi’s capital, it is important that Jackson is seen as a hub for new opportunity and growth. The city has an Equal Business Opportunity Program in place that helps to insure the growth of minority-owned business, which ultimately has a positive affect on the entire state.”

The commission for the JCC is a strong proponent of business development, particularly for our local and minority-owned businesses, said Leroy Walker, vice chairman of the commission and chairman of the procurement committee.

Earlier this year, the JCC and partners sponsored a business development conference targeting existing small and minority-owned businesses, which are ideal candidates to provide some of the products and professional services required to fulfill the day-to-day operations and maintenance needs for the JCC. Attendees received information on contract opportunities with the complex, as well as information on networking, financial resources and real estate options to help support growth.

The JCC’S partners in the effort to build the local business community include the City of Jackson, Downtown Jackson Partners, Mississippi Development Authority Minority and Small Business Development Division, MinCap, U.S. Small Business Administration, the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, JSU Small Business Development Center, JSU Entrepreneurship Program, Mississippi Minority Business Alliance and the Mississippi Black Chamber of Commerce.

Local companies already participating in this development include Dale & Associates Architects, IMS Engineers, The Priester Law Firm, Porter/Fox Everette, Novia Communications, Advanced Microsystems, LaBass Photography, A-1 Janitorial, Ellis Masonry, Capital Security Services, Inc., McGraw Gotta Go, Waterproofing Systems, Capital Glass, CivilTech Engineering, Watkins and O’Gwynn, Foshee Construction and Waggoner Electric. Fountain Major Construction, a joint venture company comprised of locally owned and operated Fountain Construction and Major Associates, serves as the general contractor for the project.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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