Thursday, July 14, 2005

County’s strategic planners take steps at implementation

Staff Writer

Marshall County, Byhalia and Holly Springs elected officials and interested citizens reviewed progress on projects and put a school mentoring and leadership program on the board as a next step toward improving education and job readiness for youth.

Jack Russell, consultant with the Appalachian Regional Commission, asked for feedback on the county’s education summit for youth held in March this year.

Committees said they were pleased with the presentations and the young people who attended.

“It went well, was well attended but we would have liked to have seen more of the community there, more ministers, teachers and parents,” said Del Stover, interim director of Marshall County Industrial Authority, the lead agency for strategic planning.

Russell asked if there were any problems identified at a wrapup session by the summit committee.

“We didn’t do the last session, the where to go from here,” Judy Smith said.

“Were there some things the speakers mentioned - voids, missed opportunities?” Russell asked.

Paul Lampley said Adam Barefield from Mississippi State provided the kinds of information the county and city needed to know.

Marshall County businesses are losing potential sales that are going to other shopping areas out of county and state, Lampley said. The food and service sector is the strongest sector but retail sales are not where they ought to be due to out-of-county shopping, he said.

“People are not shopping at home,” said Lampley. “That really stuck with me.”

“The summit was not only for the kids, it was for us and the educators,” said Larry Hall.

Smith followed with a review of the keynote speaker’s story of how an inner city school in an economically depressed area of a Texas town became a 90th percentile performing school after 20 years of work by the community.

“Schools can perform better in a community that supports education as a whole,” she said.

Hall said the Wal-Mart human resources speaker appealed to him.

“Basically, she just shucked it down and told them what it takes to make your future bright and prosperous,” he said.

Smith and Hall said community sponsors and the Holly Springs High School cafeteria staff had provided a good meal at a cost-effective price. Some money is left over from the summit fund to start another project, put toward another summit.

Russell asked for new ideas and Smith suggested the county could hold a business and industry day for teachers, like Tupelo and Clarksdale. They could learn which skills are relavent to the needs of the private sector and incorporate those into the curriculum.

Russell said one community has fostered student involvement and awareness in the community development process by letting them do a survey of the community resources and make recommendations.

“What things can you do immediately, like mentoring?” he asked.

Lisa Stevens with Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District volunteered to work to get a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

“In terms of an ARC application, three things I thought about are a mentoring program, a youth council and leadership training for youth,” she said. “I think those three things are something they could easily fund. Then we would encourage those students to attend college from that point.”

Russell said someone would need to be paid to run the youth program and Stover said local fundraising would be needed to raise money to match federal and state dollars.

“ARC can pay for staffing, material and supplies, but that soft stuff (snacks and lunches for events) has to come from local funds,” he said.

Private businesses who are already helping with job shadowing or who have a food service would likely participate in the mentoring and leadership program, said Dot Green. She said Olive Branch has a successful student mentoring program.

Jessica Woods, a county school district teacher, suggested peer counselling. She said Olive Branch had a successful peer counselling program when she was in school.

Some students do not want to spill out all their concerns to the school counsellor, she said.

“There were hundreds (of students) who participated,” said Green.

“I think a lot of programs need to start earlier than high school,” Woods said.

“So, we are talking about raising maybe $20,000 for a $100,000 project?” Russell asked. “It would be enough for facilities and maybe an instructor.”

Stover said tax deductible donations for the school project ($20,000 matching funds) could be accepted at the IDA office.

Russell asked what voids need to be filled in the retail economy.

Stevens said a “Buy in Marshall County” campaign could be launched using signage.

“From Booneville to Corinth you will see three or four ‘Buy Corinth’ or ‘Buy Alcorn County’ signs,” she said. “It makes you think about it.’

“Who should be addressing this (project)?” Russell asked.

Hall said retail sales will follow local growth automatically.

“Byhalia is a good example,” he said. “In the next 30 days to a year, retail sales will take care of Byhalia,” he said.

Green asked what could be done to help existing businesses with retail sales.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Jordan said festivals are helping retail sales.

“You’ve got to have employment; you’ve got to keep them at home,” Hall said.

Citing market studies, Stover said research data show that people shop where they work and on the way home from work.

“If they work in Memphis or Olive Branch, the easiest place to stop is close to work,” he said.

Green said many people do not know what shopping is available at home. She cited Al Beck’s black owned business directory as a good example of getting businesses noticed locally.

Holly Springs alderman Nancy Hutchens said towns the size of Holly Springs usually have big ticket items - a place that sells new cars.

“We don’t have a Ford or a Chevrolet place,” she said.

Stover cited statistics that show just under half of Marshall County’s 15,000 workforce is employed in the county.

“If you have jobs, retail will increase,” said Stevens.

Byhalia mayor Scooter Dempsey said a major marketing plan is being developed by his town and it will be most effective if it targets existing businesses and quality of life issues. He said Byhalia’s marketing strategy will be to improve the town’s image.

“Image is number one in marketing,” he said. “It takes each individual, quality of life and community pride.”

Byhalia will begin by enforcing codes and ordinances on the books and by making the town cleaner, he said.

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