Economic development grips Raymond

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Published: August 2,1999

RAYMOND — The tiny, historic town of Raymond in Hinds County is quietly outpacing its competitors and experiencing rapid economic growth.

Sonny McDonald, executive director of the Hinds County Economic Development District, said Raymond is experiencing “a spurt of business development.”

“Rooftops are going up all around Raymond,” he said. “There’s tremendous residential growth going on in single-family housing.”

Mayor Isla Tullos, the first female mayor in the town’s 171-year history, said the population has grown significantly since the U.S. Census counted 2,275 residents in 1990.

“We have a very small incorporated area,” she said. “There’s been only one annexation since the town was founded in 1827 and most of that included agricultural land.”

The population quadruples every spring and fall when 10,000 students attend the state’s third largest college — Hinds Community College. Based in Raymond, HCC offers a broad array of instruction, from livestock breeding to airplane flight and repair instruction.

Even though Raymond lacks an industrial park, expansion activity is ongoing at the regional airport in anticipation of future growth, he said.

“We’re extending the length of the runway and are making it a real first-class air strip,” McDonald said. “It hasn’t had monies spent on it in a while. With training from HCC and other activity going up around it, there’s justification to start looking at the airport in Raymond as an opportunity.”

Founded in 1828, Raymond was once a bustling trade center and popular stop along the Natchez Trace, particularly because of its own mineral spa. Established as the county seat of Hinds County the following year, it wasn’t until 1859 that the courthouse was built. As the site of a decisive battle in the Siege of Vicksburg, many of Raymond’s antebellum homes and churches were used as hospitals and headquarters by Grant’s advancing troops in the Civil War.

History buffs and other tourists flock to Raymond to view or participate in battlefield reenactments or to study the town’s architecture. Thousands are drawn to the area for Raymond’s Norman Rockwell-like setting during the annual fair held the first weekend in May. For the same reason, the fall pilgrimage of antebellum houses and buildings brings even more tourists to the area.

“It’s just another way to bring economic development to the area,” said Tullos. “We’ve developed another innovative event that was hugely successful in July. Patterned after other farmer’s markets, such as the Farmer’s Market at Marion Square in Charleston, the city developed Farmer’s Market on the Square, where farmers, growers, gardeners and vendors can sell fresh product, plants, flowers and other goods for three dollars per vendor space.”

The next Farmer’s Market is scheduled Aug. 7 and will hopefully become a weekly event by springtime, she said.

But perhaps the biggest boost to Raymond’s economy arrived with the opening of Eagle Ridge Conference Center at Hinds Community College. With a 206-seat auditorium, 54-room lodge and 55,000-square-foot center, Eagle Ridge has been booked year round since its opening for workshops, seminars, conferences, corporate retreats and has drawn thousands of business people from all over the world, said Bob Mullins, vice president for economic development at Hinds Community College.

“We have had people from the entire southeast U.S. book our conference center as opposed to people from just central Mississippi, which is what we initially thought we’d have,” Mullins said. “If it wasn’t for the Eagle Ridge Conference Center, these people wouldn’t have been in the area. It has definitely provided an economic boost to Raymond.”

The conference center has “probably increased the number of people who see the city of Raymond and has attributed to growth in the area,” Mullins said. “We don’t generate the business locally. We generate it from everywhere.”

For instance, elderhostel programs are held twice annually through the Eagle Ridge Conference Center, Mullins said.

“Between 30 and 40 people come from five states and stay with us for at least five days to follow the Civil War battle frame,” he said. “The first thing they do every morning is walk around the battlefields and plantations around Raymond. They talk about moving back and even though we haven’t tracked it, we’re sure some of them have.”

To accommodate the influx of visitors, other businesses have popped up in Raymond, including the recently built Sonic restaurant.

Thomas Wasson, associate vice president for operations for Hinds Community College, said golfers hit the links at the college’s 6,526-yard, 18-hole Eagle Ridge Golf Course for approximately 40,000 rounds in 1998.

“It’s probably much higher than that if we added in golfers who just drop in,” Wasson said. “Everyone knows that a golf course is a great place to do business.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.

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