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Miller helps build the Columbus downtown one person at a time

To those that know her, Jan Miller does not just meet people – she meets friends.

Miller admits that she’s never met a stranger.

“I guess I get my personality from my mother,” said Miller, a district director for Mississippi Main Street Association whose territory covers almost half the state. “She worked for the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference for years and also was a field representative and writer for McCall’s magazine. I learned most of my good business traits for her and building relationships with people is one of them.”

A native of Birmingham, Ala., Miller was raised in the middle-class suburb of Mountain Brook and credits her learning-rich environment for providing the impetus to think big.

“I received a great education in the Mountain Brook schools and was taught to give 110 percent in everything that I did,” she said. “Ever since, I’ve felt driven to accomplish things — growing up there really set the tone for me.”

Before assuming her current role with Mississippi Main Street, the personable Miller served as a manager and  director of program services for Columbus Main Street, one of the state’s early pilot programs.

Last year, Columbus was awarded the coveted 2010 Great American Main Street Award, one of only five cities in the nation to be so recognized.

After being notified that the city had been selected, Miller was beside herself with joy, and, uncharacteristically, without words.

“I really didn’t know what to say the day we got the call,” she said. “We were in Ocean Springs for a manager training meeting and I immediately found (Mississippi Main Street CEO) Bob Wilson. I could barely get the words out that we’d won.”

Sponsored by the National Trust Main Street Association, GAMA winners are recognized for their exceptional accomplishments in revitalizing the nation’s historic downtown commercial districts.

Miller says her seven years with Columbus Main Street was time well spent. Aside from the agency’s budget almost doubling in size and overseeing the first phase of the city’s $1.4-million Riverwalk project, she remains proudest of the award for her adopted community.

“To watch (Columbus Main Street manager) Amber (Brislin) walk across that stage and receive the GAMA was huge, for Columbus and me personally,” said Miller. “To be honest, I never believed that it would ever happen.”

Jan Miller

Jan Miller

Though a native Alabaman, Miller considers herself a dyed-in-the-wool Mississippian. She graduated from Mississippi University for Women and earned her B.S. in merchandising, and recalls one particular professor who pushed her to the brink.

“This lady stayed on me and kept saying I’d never amount to anything in my life,” admitted Miller. “But looking back, she actually lit a fire under me and told me after I graduated that it was all a plan. She thought I would do great things and wanted to make sure I ‘got it.’”

For Miller, the Mississippi Main Street program is the lifeblood of economic development in the state. It all starts in downtowns as diverse as Canton, Ocean Springs, Tupelo, Columbus and even Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood, the state’s only urban Main Street.

“If you don’t have a quality downtown, large manufacturing companies aren’t going to want to relocate there,” she said. “The schools, medical facilities and yes, downtowns, are all factors when executives want to find the right location for their business.”

In addition to her duties with Mississippi Main Street, Miller is a self-employed consultant in community festival development. She also plans to launch a blog about retail and merchandising soon, claiming she’s a natural.

“I love to shop and I spend a lot of time in stores,” said Miller, laughing.

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