Jennifer Gregory was recently named CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. Gregory, who graduated from Mississippi State with a BBA in marketing, has been with the Partnership for almost four years. She and her husband live in Starkville with their three children.
Q — What are some of your immediate goals, now that you’re the CEO of GSDP?
A — Consistency. The Partnership has seen many changes over the last 12 years, and I look forward to establishing a consistent message of who we are, what we’re all about and how we can help our community and its businesses. Our CVB and Main Street Association have been very active in providing a consistent message of what their goals are, and I look forward to bringing that same marketing mind to the overall Partnership.
We’re about to release an advertising campaign positioning us as a community development organization. While economic development will remain a major part of our organization, we’re looking forward to focusing on enhancing the livability of our community. Starkville is the best college town in Mississippi, and we believe there’s no better place to visit, retire, live or do business.
Q — How will the establishment of the multi-county LINK change or otherwise affect the Partnership’s mission?
A — It will only enhance the Partnership’s mission. Economic development will remain a major part of the Partnership’s mission, and by partnering with the LINK, development in Oktibbeha County will receive prime attention.
Joey Deason’s hire is a major win for Starkville-Oktibbeha County. We could not be more excited, and we look forward to his exceptional experience being a major resource for economic development efforts in our community. Additionally, this now means that the Partnership can more closely focus on community development, which we believe is tremendously important to enhancing our community not only for residents but also for visitors and potential and existing industries.
Q — College towns often can transform themselves as far as their economic base more quickly than non-college towns. How has Starkville changed, if any, in your time with the Partnership?
A — I’ve been at the Partnership for almost four years. During my time here, we’ve underdone an aggressive advertising campaign positioning us as Mississippi’s College Town. We’ve become extremely active in social media channels, and we’ve strategically planned our campaigns to compliment and coincide with Mississippi State University athletic events.
This has been extremely successful, and in the last three years, tourism spending in Oktibbeha County has increased by about 33 percent. This is monumental compared to statewide averages. We believe that we’ve been somewhat protected by the recession because we’re a college town, but we’ve also purposefully used that asset to stimulate the economy in our county. We’ve experienced record high sales tax receipts, and we largely attribute much of that success to our retail promotion campaign and the revitalization of our downtown area.
In any town or city, community development is key, but in a college town, it’s just as important as industrial economic development because when Starkville succeeds and Starkville is a livable community, it enhances and aids the ability to recruit industry, business, and even faculty, staff, students and athletes to Mississippi State. We have a phenomenal partnership with Mississippi State, and I think it’s improved dramatically in the last three to five years. We support Mississippi State and they support us. We meet regularly with university and city official to keep open lines of communication, and we think that consistent approach to progress has yielded tremendous results for our entire community.
Q — Starkville has recorded historically high sales tax receipts recently. What do you attribute that to, and how do you sustain it?
A — I think it’s definitely a team approach that has yielded these results, but I do believe the Partnership’s efforts and success in promoting local retail and increasing tourism spending has largely contributed. We’ve made a point to continuously promote local shopping in every piece of advertising we distribute. Even our tourism-driven ads contain a strong message promoting our local retailers and restaurants.
Q — Moving forward, what are some of Starkville’s greatest challenges?
A — Education continues to be a top priority of the Partnership. Linking local businesses and community members with at-risk students in our schools is a way we think we can make a difference, and we’ll continue to do that through an initiative of our chamber of commerce, Project CLASS (Community Leaders Assisting Schools for Success). We’ll continue to support whatever decisions our local superintendent and leaders make, and we are optimistic in the future.
Q — What do you hope the future holds for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership?
A — I think the future is bright for the Partnership. In my opinion, there’s never been a better time for us to plan for success.
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