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Businessperson of the Year not always singular

December 16th, 2011 Comments off

When we first dreamed up the idea of having an MBJ Businessperson of the Year, we had no idea that the inaugural award would turn out like it did.

We generally thought the award would end up going to someone like a Hu Meena at C Spire, who led his Ridgeland-based companies to new heights in 2011 by working a deal to offer Apple’s iPhone to his customers.

>> SEE MAIN STORY: SURVIVING THE STORM
>> SEE WHAT’S NEXT FOR SMITHVILLE
>> SEE WHAT THE FAMILIES ARE SAYING
>> TOWN BANKING ON HIGHWAY RECONSTRUCTION

Maybe someone like Hartley Peavey at Peavey Electronics in Meridian for the yeoman’s work he has done over the course of a lifetime that has led to a more positive image for Mississippi.

But when we really began to think more about the year that was in 2011, the weather from the historic floods and the EF-5 tornado that struck Smithville kept coming to the forefront.

From there, we looked for business people who had really made a difference to their communities and regions in a great time of need.

Then, we ran across Doughbellys Pizzeria and Mel’s Diner — two businesses that were totally destroyed during the April 27 storms.

So, here we are. In our inaugural Businessperson of the Year award, we are honoring the grit and guile of two Smithville small business ownerships, who stared down a community-destroying EF-5 tornado. Theirs, along with all but two business, were destroyed last April. But Phillip and Tiffany Lockhart of Doughbellys Pizzeria and Bobby and Melanie Edwards of Mel’s Diner have built back — bigger and better — and are serving a town that is healing on multiple levels. Sometimes, success is not measured in hundreds of millions of dollars made, but in serving your community. This is one of those times.

Many business owners fled, however, worried that the small, rebuilding Smithville might not be able to support much business going forward.

So, why stay?

According to Ted Carter’s story on page 13, there were signs that suggested that there was still plenty work to do in Smithville — for the town and themselves.

So why didn’t Smithville restaurateurs Bobby and Melanie Edwards and their neighbors Phillip and Tiffany Lockhart move on to new pursuits or go back to former occupations after April 27’s EF-5 tornado destroyed their businesses?

The Edwards say signs signaling what they should do appeared among the debris that was Mel‘s Diner, a business they built together for 14 years. The tornado took all the walls except the one dividing the kitchen and walk-in freezer and most every other part of the structure. But it left behind much of what Bobby and Melanie would need to make a new start including grills, stoves and fryers. The cake mixes, macaroni and other food remained on a shelf undisturbed.

“All the stuff was sitting there,” Bobby Edwards says. “The equipment was there.”

The reaction of Melanie Edwards? “She said, ‘God didn’t leave all this stuff here for us to just walk off,’” her husband recalls.

Sounds like a great reason to me.

So, while in the future, I am sure there will be lots of CEOs and bank presidents and more traditional types that will win this award, this time our most prestigious award goes to a group of people whose hard-working business practices just may help save an entire town.

We thank Edwards and the Lockharts for their dedication to their craft, their families and their towns. They are absolutely deserving of this honor.

I say more towers and fewer land lines

April 25th, 2011 Comments off

As an iPhone user, the news that AT&T is expanding and upgrading its wireless network in Mississippi is more than great, it is ….
Oh, sorry, I had a dropped call.
You get the point.
Even AT&T Mississippi CEO Mayo Flynt admitted to the Mississippi Business Journal a few months back that even he has a hard time with reception from time to time. He says his home is at the bottom of a hill, which leads to reception issues.
The company said in a statement last week that it plans to add 50 cell sites in the state in 2011. More than 100 existing cell sites will be upgraded and capacity will be enhanced at sites across the state.
In 2010, AT&T says it added 50 new cell sites in Mississippi and upgraded some 90 existing sites to mobile broadband.
AT&T says the improvements are part of a $19-billion companywide capital investment this year.

Who needs a home phone?
With the news that AT&T is adding towers, which would presumably lead to better reception across the state, why in the world would you want to have a home phone? Well, apparently that is a good question.
In a story from last week, it was reported that a  growing number of Americans are getting rid of their old land line telephones and using only cell phones, a trend led not by the high-tech elite but by people in poorer states trying to save money.
And guess who is leading the way?
You’ve got it.
Mississippi.
Government estimates show at least 30 percent of adults in 10 states rely entirely on cell phones, with the highest percentage in Arkansas and Mississippi, where many cannot afford to pay for two separate lines.
Wealthier households have been slower to use wireless technology as their sole means of making calls.
“The answer’s obvious: No one has money here,” John N. Daigle, a professor of electrical engineering at Ole Miss with broad experience in the telecommunications industry, told the Associated Press. “If they can do without a land line, they will do it to save money.”
Sure, I would do it to save money, too. In fact, we have had that conversation at our house. My wife and I both have cell phones. Everyone who needs to contact us, knows how to.
However, we keep our land line for security system and emergency needs, as well as the convenient daily telemarketer calls at just about the time we are putting a kids to bed.
Clay Chandler, here in our newsroom, recently thought about the same thing in his new home. We talked at length about it. Not because we are poverty stricken — although we do live on journalists salaries — but because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay for more phones that you really need.
According to the AP story about 35 percent of adults in Mississippi have only cell phones, according to figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New Jersey and Rhode Island, the states where the smallest proportion of people depend solely on wireless phones, that figure is only 13 percent.
Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation — 21.9 percent in 2009, according to the Census Bureau. The Arkansas figure was 18.8 percent. The nationwide rate is 14.3 percent.
In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau defined poverty as a single person making less than $11,000 a year or a family of four making less than $22,000 a year.
“I think people decide, ‘I can afford one but not the other,’” said Ellen Reddy, who works for a nonprofit community center that helps low-income residents in Holmes County. She said poor people in her area often have cell phones with a limited number of minutes.
Again, however, it comes down to a business decision. You don’t have to be poverty stricken to make a decision to have one phone instead of two.
Sounds like folks in Mississippi, poor or not, have made the right decision.
Now, if we can get those new AT&T towers up quickly, so my wife doesn’t think I have hung up on her while I am driving past Highland Village in Jackson.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Hey Steve Jobs, it’s like the iPad was my idea!

April 7th, 2010 Comments off

My wife owns the laptop in our family, which is the modern day version of the saying she wears the pants in the family.
I have to ask permission to get minutes on the portable computer or be relegated to working on our big-screened dinosaur in our closet of an office.
So, in order to continue to be a member of the family during evening hours I have become pretty capable at surfing the web on my iPhone.
Yes, my iPhone. I can’t live without it. I read the news of the day in the morning by using my apps from the New York Times, Associated Press, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, CNN and USA Today.
For my Boston Red Sox fix, I read scores and more from the Boston Globe.
Yes, the screen is pretty small, but it gets the job done.
Ah, then Apple CEO Steve Jobs heard me from afar. It’s like the iPad was my idea (sorry for the poor reference to the inferior competition’s product lines).
Make a giant iPhone that isn’t a phone at all.
Poof.
The iPad.
Apple latest creation is just that, an iPhone without the phone and much bigger, but not as big as a laptop, easier to carry around.
So, last Monday after the much-ballyhooed release that weekend, I spent part of lunch lusting after the gadget at the local Apple Store.
Held it in my hand, typed in www.msbusiness .com, read the latest news on our site just like it was a laptop, but better.
The price tag, compared to a laptop, is better, too.
My lunchtime visit was like walking through the auto dealership and eyeing the new car you want.
It’s pretty to look at and you can afford it it if you really want it, but how much do you want it?
Not sure just yet.
I may make a few more trips to the Apple Store for a test drive just to see what kind of gitty-up it has, maybe kick the tires and look under the hood.
You know you can never be too careful about these things.
But then again, if my wife is reading, my birthday is just a few weeks away (ahem!).

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.