Metro sees business boost from Legislature

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Published: January 3,2000

When 52 senators, 122 representatives, scores of lobbyists, countless agencies and support staff gather at the Capitol during the legislative session, the economic impact to metro Jackson starts at more than $2 million.

“Through the work we do with the convention and visitors bureau, they would tell us that the estimated hard dollars for legislators being here — just hotels and meals — is about $2 million,” said Duane O’Neill, president of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce.

“What that doesn’t include are the probable two or three receptions a night — every city and association does one — for the first two months of the session. It’s hard to get a figure on that, but I think you’re looking at anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 in business generated from receptions alone. When you start pumping in all the extra dollars into that, all total, the economic impact could reach $2.5 million — and that’s a conservative figure.”

That doesn’t include the economic impact of the people who travel to visit with the legislators and plead their legislative agendas, O’Neill said.

“By the time you start adding hotels and meals for those folks, plus extra entertainment expenses, it’s a hard one to get a multiplier effect on the economic impact,” he sad. “But it does keep growing and growing.”

Alice Batton, manager of the Sun-N-Sand Motor Hotel on Lamar Street, established in 1960, said the staff at the 140-room hotel works at a brisk pace during the legislative session.

“We’re not necessarily full with legislators, but we’re full,” Batton said.

Peter Zouboukos, owner of The Elite, a downtown restaurant as famous for its good food and lengthy waiting lines that peek out of the front door as it is for its Formica countertops and homey atmosphere, said business remains steady all year long.

“People are in and out of the restaurant all day long,” said Zouboukos, who, along with his brother who died two years ago, opened the restaurant in 1947. “We have regular customers and maybe a few more at the first of the year. Our business … is still good.”

The Iron Horse Grill, established in 1985 and housed in the original smokehouse and test kitchen for Armour Meats built in 1906 and 1930, served more than 1,000 customers a day, including many politicos from the Capitol, before it closed after a second fire this year – the last one on Oct. 31 — destroyed it.

“Restaurants in downtown Jackson do great in the daytime,” O’Neill said. “Certain niche-type businesses do real well during legislative times.”

Liquor, beer and wine consumption in metro Jackson also increases during the legislative session. The number of patrons who stop by George Street Grocery in downtown Jackson rises 15% or more, said Garrett Hebert, general manager.

Ditto for Fenian’s Pub on Fortification Street.

Even business outside the downtown area enjoys a boost. Tico’s Steak House in Ridgeland, a favorite haunt of legislators and associates, increases its steak orders about 10% when the Legislature is in session, said Preston Grace, manager.

Office Environments, one of the only office supply companies in downtown Jackson, will celebrate its 18th anniversary on Feb. 1. Located in the Landmark Center for a dozen years, Office Environments moved across the street and is situated a couple of blocks south of the Capitol, said Mona Webber, who, along with her husband, Norman Webber, owns the business.

“Business increases in downtown Jackson during the legislative session,” said. “The state business increases. Therefore, it makes our business increase.”

Even though legislators are pushing a lot of paper during the four-month session, it’s tough to guess what they’ll need, she said.

“You never know how many paper products or report covers they’ll need,” she said, with a laugh.

Not all businesses profit from the law-making session. Bob Mahaffey of Mahaffey’s Quality Printing on South Gallatin Street, said none of the company’s $10 million per year business comes from state printing jobs — intentionally.

“We don’t even do lobbyist or agency printing,” Mahaffey said. “We have large clients all over the world. The legislative session doesn’t impact us at all.”

Ashley Mitias, general manager of PC Warehouse in Jackson, said their business is impacted more by national legislators than state legislators.

“We do more federal business and almost no state business,” she said.

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

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