By NASH NUNNERY
To say Jim Rasberry loves his hometown of Laurel might be the understatement of the century.
In 2006, Rasberry Financial Services was one of a handful of tenants occupying the city’s once-bustling downtown. Many small businesses had left for other areas of town. Federal urban renewal projects had turned the center of Laurel into what resembled a pedestrian mall, with faux facades and false hope.
But thanks to Rasberry, his wife Mallorie, and friends Emily and Josh Nowell and Erin and Ben Napier, downtown Laurel has become Nirvana to many and a testament to what passionate investors and a little TLC can do to resuscitate a small town’s heart.
“I’m a fourth generation Jones countian and I’ve lived in Laurel all of my life,” said Rasberry. “My dad always spoke about the busy streets and how great downtown was when he was growing up. However, my experience was that Laurel was desolate and dead. It got me and other folks wondering what it would take to bring our downtown back.
“If something needs to change, I will be the change.”
Revitalizing Laurel has been his dream but make no mistake – Rasberry’s bread-and-butter is his financial services company and helping people grow their wealth.
The 36-year old Rasberry launched his company while still a student at the University of Southern Mississippi. Rasberry Financial Services provides a wide-range of wealth management services, including wealth accumulation and retirement income.
“We started literally from scratch, and had acquired enough clients before and after I graduated to sustain the business,” he said. “My dad has been involved in the industry for a long time and I can remember playing under his desk as a five-year old while he worked. I knew from an early age that financial services on the retail side was what I wanted to do.”
In addition to RFS, Rasberry serves as a registered player financial adviser to the NFL Players Association, a job that’s not as glamorous as it may seem. According to the NFL PA website, the average length of a player’s career is a measly 3.3 years.
“The majority of NFL players aren’t superstars like a Drew Brees, that sign large multi-million dollar contracts,” he said. “If I can get (players) to save $50,000 during the length of a three-year contract, I’m doing well.”
But making downtown Laurel great again is Rasberry’s true passion.
Thirteen years ago, Jim and Mallorie Rasberry helped found the non-profit Laurel Main Street, a 501c3 non-profit fully accredited by state and national Main Street organizations. With the full support of the city of Laurel, the Jones County Board of Supervisors and the Economic Development Authority of Jones County, Laurel Main Street has been the fuel to spark the downtown Laurel revitalization fire.
The proof? Try $40 million in private investment for the city in the past 13 years.
“Using the Main Street blueprint, we’ve developed those partnerships with government and attracted many private investors,” Rasberry said. “We’re promoting a ‘downtown lifestyle’ at little cost to the taxpayers.
“Downtown Laurel is now thriving and it’s proof that public dollars don’t have to be thrown at big corporations to bring jobs to small-town Mississippi.”
The world is taking notice of what’s happening in Laurel.
HGTV’s “Home Town”, a popular renovation-and-design series, is filmed in Laurel and stars Erin and Ben Napier – the Rasberrys and Nowells also are featured prominently. The show premiered in March 2017 and was renewed for a fourth season recently.
Rasberry says it’s a blessing to be a part of “Home Town”, which is filmed June to December. He confesses he doesn’t see one frame of film until each show actually airs.
“The Napiers, Nowells and us have always been a family affair,” he said. “We all met with the HGTV producers in New York City in 2015 and they told us they loved what we’re doing in Laurel. The pilot show that we shot drew over 2 million viewers.
“The very best part of the show is it depicts Mississippi in a positive light and shows us to be much more progressive than the rest of the country gives us credit for.”
Due to his busy schedule, Rasberry admits he’s given up golf and fishing. A two-time state champion golfer at West Jones High School, he also won a state community college golf championship while a freshman at Jones County Junior College.
“I’ve put up the sticks (golf clubs) and I don’t fish anymore.”
“Downtown Laurel is my hobby.”
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