Back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s there was a string of commercials for a stock brokerage firm that featured someone, usually a professional-type in a public setting, having a conversation with another person. One person would ask, “What does your broker say?” The other person would reply, “My broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says…” At that instant all of the people in the background would stop what they were doing and lean forward to hear the response. A few seconds later a voiceover would say, “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
This columnist was reminded of that commercial a few weeks ago when Bill Cooley addressed the Friday Forum, a weekly gathering held at the Koinonia Coffee House, 136 West Adams Street, Jackson, Mississippi. Each week a different person speaks on some topic related to the Capital City. “Doc,” as he is known to some, is worth listening to because his wisdom is based on experience, education and passion for his causes. Those causes include entrepreneurship and West Jackson.
If Dr. Bill Cooley’s name seems familiar it might be because he was recently featured in the (highly recommended) book, “Mississippi Entrepreneurs,” which was written by Polly Dement, published by Cat Island Books, and distributed by University Press of Mississippi. From the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to an Air Force career to Dean of the Business School at Jackson State University to founding several very successful enterprises, he was walked the walk and put his money where his mouth is. He has also put his business in West Jackson.
West Jackson is viewed by some as a glass half-empty, a glass half-full or a broken glass. The once-thriving area is often pictured as a crime-ridden, inner city area of dilapidated housing. Nevertheless, there are pockets of positivity and some bright spots. Lunch at The Penguin Restaurant or a tour of Jackson State’s Walter Peyton Center offers a glimpse of what is and what could be.
Doc’s subject at this particular Friday Forum was “Bill Cooley’s Imperatives for West Jackson.” These recommendations offer a vision and strategy for West Jackson.
1. Ombudsman — Dr. Cooley said that West Jackson needs an ombudsman, someone to serve as an overseer or a watchdog. The term is often defined as a “nongovernment complaint investigator.” What he seems to have in mind is that as well as being a champion for the area and this person will be responsible for seeing that things get done. This would be a paid position, but would not be filled by someone who is doing it for the money.
2. Motivate JSU — Jackson State University is the largest employer in West Jackson and has done a lot for the community. However, the university could take more involvement and control in redeveloping the area.
3. Create trust — There are many factions in and out of West Jackson that are involved in revitalizing the area. They need to trust each other and not see themselves in competition with each other.
4. Develop a culture of inclusion — An offshoot of creating trust is that others are included in planning and implementation of projects and are part of the social and cultural experiences in West Jackson.
5. Saturate West Jackson with young people — West Jackson should be a hub for young people, especially young people who are interested in creating and growing businesses. Nationally, the trend is for young people to move to urban areas, and West Jackson should be a part of that trend. Young people are the future of an area. Without presence and familiarity with the area, then it will not flourish.
6. Make the City of Jackson blue and white — Dr. Cooley pointed out that Jackson State University is Jackson’s university. The city of Jackson should embrace the university and support it.
7. Make banks become more open to West Jackson — BankPlus built a new branch office in West Jackson. More banks should consider West Jackson as a place, perhaps not for a branch bank, but as a market for their products and services. They should consider that there are emerging businesses that need loans and other banking services.
8. Create some major projects — One of Dr. Cooley’s advice to entrepreneurs in general is to think big. West Jackson needs to have some big projects and employers in the area. Community leaders should support and encourage small businesses, but it is the large projects that create lots of jobs. And those jobs are primary jobs that create other jobs.
Dr. Cooley’s imperatives are meant for West Jackson, but they are good examples for any community leaders involved in revitalization of an area. So when Dr. Bill Cooley speaks, it pays to listen.
» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and CEO of The Hardwick Company, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com