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Heritage tourism, reaching out to customers look promising

Small Delta towns fight for prosperity

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

small business.

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
to develop those. I could see us

with a bakery here in Mound Bayou. We have some of the b


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