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Union-Lee Alliance that lured Toyota is prime example of how cooperation is the key to success

Regionalism approach still the model that works

The regionalism approach is one that has been utilized by the economic development industry to land big projects.

A clear example of a multi-community effort that was a success is the Pontotoc-Union-Lee Alliance that developed the Wellspring mega site in Northeast Mississippi where Toyota will eventually build the Prius Hybrid.

Such large-scale cooperation is not uncommon, particularly when more than one community stands to benefit.

In an economy that is draining jobs, regionalism is taking root in smaller pockets of business, especially in the retail market.

Ron Aldridge, Mississippi state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, is spearheading an effort among businesses in the Fondren Historic District of Jackson to increase sales across the board.

The concept of teamwork, Aldridge said, is made necessary by the economy.

“There are groups of businesses that now understand that it’s not just (about) them,” Aldridge said.

The sharing of common expenses such as advertising and promotion among businesses has the potential to benefit everybody involved. In a hot economy, a business can afford to be an island, but not now, Aldridge said.

“They have to work with their neighbors, particularly in a retail market. They have to join together and promote what they all have available for purchase,” he said. “So, we’re going to see a lot more of that, with expenses being shared.”

One Fondren business that is depending on a bump from its neighbors is the Bohemian Kitchen, a subsidiary of Gozan Interiors that opened in November.

“It’s been a little slow for us right now,” said Gozan Interiors office manager Ashley Davidson. A handful of new businesses are scheduled for opening in the Bohemian Kitchen’s Fondren Place building.

“That should increase the traffic, but it’s been a little slow from the beginning,” Davidson said.

The U.S. economy has officially been in a recession since December 2007. In that time, the nation’s financial system has collapsed and the unemployment rate has soared.

When an economic calamity lasts as long as the current one has, small businesses are usually left with only one option.

“With the longevity of what we’ve been through, (NFIB members) have already trimmed down all of the expenses they can, and now they are all making some sort of payroll cut,” Aldridge said. “Several have already made it up to 20 percent in payroll cuts.”

Laying off employees for financial reasons is not something most small businesses relish, Aldridge said, but becomes the only way out of a financial hole dug by plunging revenue. Contract-based businesses, those that depend on big work contracts for most of their revenue, are especially taking it on the chin as deals that regularly came to fruition are disappearing.

“There’s a certain segment of the market right now that is just not receiving the income that they previously had because the economy has cut off that spigot in a huge way,” Aldridge said. “One or two good contracts can basically knock out an employee. And that’s probably why an employee was hired, because of a contract like that. And so, they have a choice: they can let that person go all together, or do we all take a hit right now and see how long we can make it through without cutting jobs? I think that’s what small businesses are doing first, is to not let people go and see how long they can hold out.”
The regionalism approach is one that can aid a small business in holding out on layoffs longer. When a retail community, especially, has all its members collaborating to pull traffic into the area, everybody benefits from taking the first and often most difficult step: getting people through the doors.
“You’ve got to get them in that neighborhood first,” Aldridge said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@msbusiness.com .


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