Small Delta towns fight for prosperity
Published: December 11,2000
IN THE DELTA — Some of the most economically depressed communities in the nation are rural,
predominantly African-American communities in the Delta.
Efforts to enhance economic development critical to improving those towns are ranging from preserving
and marketing heritage tourism attractions to overcoming regional isolation to reach potential customers
beyond the immediate area.
“I think the main way to enhance economic development in these towns focuses on the need to
overcome isolation,” said Bill Bynum, CEO of the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta (ECD). “Many
of these smaller towns are not interacting with the larger economic community, and that’s a recipe for
trouble. They need to form a strategy for linking, looking for ways to link services and businesses with
customers beyond their immediate community.”
For example, ECD has been working with the City of Glendora, which is improving its economy by
cultivating and processing sweet potatoes. The sweet potato products are sold to a large company in
Chicago, Glory Foods, which markets to large stores all over the country.
“The initial harvest that Glendora just produced is going to be sold to Wal-Mart,” Bynum said. “That
is importing wealth into Glendora. Certainly Glendora does not have within its immediate geography a
lot of market opportunities. So they need to look beyond for ways to bring in income from the
Processing the sweet potatoes in addition to just growing them is a value-added enterprise that provides
more jobs. Currently the community is considering expanding the product line by making sweet potato
It is also important to overcome barriers of knowledge and information.
Business link partnerships
“One promising strategy that we are involved with to close the information and expertise gap is
Business Link, a partnership between large corporations such as Entergy, Mississippi Chemical and
Fed Ex where those large corporations work with small firms and provide them with technical expertise
in a range of areas whether it is marketing, management or engineering,” Bynum said. “The idea is to
use their expertise to help the smaller firms. I think, also, the Internet represents an opportunity to close
the information gap for small communities. Increasingly companies are buying and selling products
online. So, in addition to learning about what other companies around the country and the world are
doing, the Internet also closes distance and makes markets accessible to small communities in a way that
they could never before realize.”
Bynum also believes the state’s new GAP (Growth and Prosperity) program holds promise. Under the
GAP program, certain tax incentives are made available for companies to locate and expand in distressed
“I think with the opportunities presented by Nissan for potential suppliers within a 150-mile radius of
Canton, small communities can take advantage of the GAP county incentives to make themselves
attractive for potential employers,” Bynum said.
Preservation has economic value
Another effort to enhance the Delta economy is the Your Town, Mississippi Delta program by the
Mississippi State University’s (MSU) Small Town Center working with Delta State University and the
Mississippi Department of Archives and History to focus on ways to preserve African-American
communities. The program addresses issues such as the potential for heritage tourism.
“Identifying a community’s character and culture is such a valuable resource that it often can be
overlooked,” said Shannon Criss, director of the Small Town Center, a part of the MSU School of
Architecture. “The future is tied to the past. With urban sprawl and industrialization, I think the value of
specific places and the people there can be bypassed. So it is very valuable to embrace the specific
qualities of the people and the place.”
A three-day workshop held earlier this year for the Your Town, Mississippi Delta attracted 55
participants. Criss said one of the best things to come out of the workshop was for people to meet with
their counterparts in other communities struggling with the same issues.
“Dozens of case study success stories were given,” Criss said. “We were able to listen to issues other
communities are dealing with. Participants said they could go back to their community to make
something happen. The program focused on the value of planning and design, and how promoting that
can be valuable to communities. A lot of our work is looking at the kind of cultural and historical
resources we possess that can either be neglected and forgotten, or realized as valuable and preserved.
We want to help people realize these things ultimately bring economic value to the community.”
Heritage tourism development
Jonestown Mayor Joe Phillips said the workshop generated some good ideas.
“We want to set up some type of tour of attractions to develop what we already have here,” Phillips
said. “Due to the fact that there are so many people who are visiting our state, we would like to try to
develop some tourist attractions.”
Phillips said they also want to encourage small business development of antique shops, gift shops,
hotels and restaurants.
“Every town needs a development strategy to encourage people to buy back into the community,” he
Phillips said small businesses located in homes need to be encouraged to come out with a storefront on
Main Street. Those individuals may need help with issues such as marketing, financing and running a
Phillips feels that often small, rural communities are left out of state and federal efforts to promote
economic development. “I think our legislators and our state need to prioritize some agenda to speak to
the rural communities,” he said.
Young people staying in community
Mound Bayou Mayor Nerissa Norman also sees the need to provide support to help communities like
hers grow from within.
“Our overall goal is to build bridges for a sustainable community and economic development through
collaboration,” Norman said. “We must grow our community by being aggressive in using our talents
to develop entrepreneurial businesses. We need to maintain our community, and develop jobs. There
was a time when as soon as our young people graduated from high school, they would have their
suitcases packed and be ready to go. It is not like that now. Quite a few young people are now staying
in the community and doing well for themselves. I just want us to grow so we can be economically
viable, and not be dependent on handouts.”
Mound Bayou has a thriving pottery company, Peter’s Pottery, which is working to establish a sweet
potato processing plant, and has a demonstration farm run by Alcorn State University. Norman would
also like to develop the potential for musical and performing arts entertainment, and small businesses.
“These small communities can’t continue to depend on outside help,” she said. “We have to build
from within. There are people with all sorts of talents, and we just have
to develop those. I could see us
with a bakery here in Mound Bayou. We have some of the b
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