Thursday, September 8, 2011
ARC co-chair visits to discuss projects
By SUE WATSON
Holly Springs recently welcomed representatives with the Appalachian Regional Commission – Mike Armor, state director; Sandra Perkins, associate manager, Tupelo; federal co-chair Earl Gohl; and chief of staff Guy Land with the federal office.
The four looked at recently completed projects at Strawberry Plains, in Holly Springs and over the county and listened to the ideas and dream projects of local constituents.
Gohl said, “ARC spends your money. We have an obligation to see where it ends up. We don’t tell people what to do. We help them figure out what their dreams are and help them carry them out.”
The 45-year-old council covers 420 counties in the Appalachian Region and stretches from Mississippi to New York and areas in between. In Mississippi, ARC serves 24 counties and 600,000 citizens.
ARC focuses on the needs of rural communities, primarily.
“Places like Holly Springs far too often are bypasses and can’t compete (for funds),” Gohl said.
He added that Gov. Haley Barbour had been very active in guiding resources from ARC to the state.
Some projects that received recent funding in Marshall County include the North Holly Springs bypass road; water and sewer projects; Holly Springs Main Street charettes; master plan and turn lane at Strawberry Plains Audubon; $300,000 toward a water tank in Holly Springs; a $250,000 technology distance learning grant to Rust College; Mt. Carmel Road construction in the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park; and money is set aside for a sewer project at Cayce Road and Highway 72.
Gohl said ARC has two goals during local visits – to look at projects already funded and talk to local employers about small business needs. Talks cover the challenges businesses are facing, their plans and hopes and what help they need to help remove barriers to success.
“The president asked us to get out of Washington and have discussions,” Gohl said.
Employers provide a different point of view on the community, he said, and help Washington to get down to the real life situations in a community that ARC can help with.
“Our job is to have these conversations, report back to the White House, and also to come back and follow up with people we have visited,” he said.
Employers and business people are often times too busy trying to stay up with daily tasks making a living to think about solutions or initiatives available to them, Gohl said.
“I’ve done these (site visits) in South Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Alabama - learning what is holding their areas back,” he said.
The number one concern of most communities is seeing that kids coming out of high school have skills employers need. Projects must make sense to the community and be important to those receiving the funds, he said.
Judy Smith, former school district superintendent and a former interim director for Main Street, said Marshall County has been overlooked while other counties have grown.
“I’ve been sitting here in Holly Springs for 32 years and all we’ve done is plan,” she said. “We’ve never seen it go to the next level (fulfilling the plan).”
Rebecca Bourgeois, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street, said one organization gets funds from one government entity and the other is funded by the county. But the two do not work together on projects. Matching funds are almost always needed to get grants, she said. And the city is about to fall off the at-risk list and will be ineligible for zero matching grants. Money is needed to implement the goals of the charettes, she said.
Gohl said getting the community to unite behind a project is the biggest challenge of every community.
“The ones who get through are the communities that decide they have to work together to get things done,” he said. “It goes back to ‘we can do more together than alone.’ ”
Armour said the PUL Alliance is a good example of communities getting together to win a project (The Blue Springs Toyota Assembly Plant).
Gohl said looking around in just a few hours in Holly Springs, he sees the community has great assets.
“It is a matter of understanding you all are in this together,” he said.
“Look at Tupelo. Look at DeSoto County,” said Bourgeois. “They are all growing and we are sitting right here in the middle. We have a great location.”
Armour said 10 years has seen a lot of change in the area - the transportation sector is taking off and the downtown square in Holly Springs is looking more attractive.
“I can see you as a retirement community,” he said.
“We lost that certification because we did not have $10,000 to pay our fees,” Smith said.
Bourgeois said branding would be the easiest and most noticeable Main Street project to implement – “All Kinds of Character” is the Main Street motto. The city uses the motto, “Mississippi’s Best Kept Secret.”
Restoration of the Old Power House and development of the Spring Hollow Park would make use of assets with great potential - the park and Power House.
“Right now it’s an eyesore,” she said. “It’s going to fall down or burn down.”
Main Street needs funds to do a structural analysis on the historic landmark property.
Some Main Street successes are Bikers Night Out and Blues Alley and installing flowers in pots around the square in the spring and fall, Bourgeois said, to the credit of Judy Smith who got those projects started the first year.
A Saturday morning farmers market has had some success despite a late planting season due to weather. Some signage near the old depot to direct tourists to Phillips Grocery is needed.
“My sticking point is finding matching funds,” Bourgeois said.
The number-one tourist attraction in Holly Springs is Graceland Too.
Some sites that garner international fame and visitors are Phillips Grocery, the Marshall County Historical Museum, Graceland Too, and Aikei Pros record shop.
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