Thursday, August 2, 2012
O’Toole: ‘capitalize on what you’ve got’
By SUE WATSON
Little things can make a big difference when it comes to community and economic development, said Diana O’Toole, with the Asset Mapping Team of the Mississippi Development Authority.
Holly Springs is now on the map, along with dozens of other cities, and can be viewed at the website www.assetmap.mississippi.org.
The new asset map and its uses were laid out by O’Toole in a meeting at city hall, where interested parties met to hear what the community can do to maximize its use of what it has.
She said the city has to decide what it wants to look like and how it will develop its resources.
“Holly Springs is not looking for people to tell you what to do,” she said.
The asset map was requested by the city, a site visit was held, recommendations were made of what assets to photograph, and then the photos were taken and uploaded to the MDA site. Last week’s visit O’Toole reported to the community the findings and recommendations.
O’Toole said the community should focus on what it has, not what it lacks.
“Successful asset development hinges on leadership,” she said.
Three of the city’s assets were discussed – the history, education and recreation.
“First, architecture in this town is exquisite; it’s jaw-dropping,” she said.
The history includes not only the architecture, but the city’s complete past, including its civil rights events. The “Behind the Big House” tour held at this year’s Pilgrimage melded the history – antebellum architecture, society and civil rights, she said.
In education, Rust College, the city’s Regional Information Technology Center and the presence of Northwest Community College are some of the city’s greatest assets, she said.
In recreation, the Kirkwood National Golf Course, Wall Doxey State Park, the Holly Springs Motor Sports Park and Strawberry Plains Audubon Center are great assets, O’Toole said.
Graceland Too, recognized by Time Magazine as one of the top 50 American Roadside Attractions, is a good draw for tourists, she added.
Recommendations made by the Main Street Association in 2008 planning charrettes are powerful ideas, she said. The upcoming City of Holly Springs Comprehensive Plan also will help implement recommendations in the charrettes and MDA’s suggestions.
O’Toole said implementing ideas cannot be done all at once.
“How in the world are y’all going to eat that elephant?” she asked rhetorically, and answered, “one bite at a time.”
Some reasons “things are not galloping along,” she said, include budget cuts (MDA has had three rounds of 10 percent cuts in a row); lack of agreement on initiatives; or being overwhelmed.
The economic impact of Rust College on the community is huge – estimated at $10 million annually in labor income, 302 jobs, and $107,965 in local taxes. O’Toole said communities that have an institution of higher learning usually maximize its impact by providing community enrichment courses, like Millsaps and other IHLs do.
“It would be a good money-maker and tool to meld the community and college together,” she said of the enrichment classes.
The development of the old Walmart shopping center to retail items that cater to college students would be an asset.
Codes near the college need enforcing, she said, citing MDA’s Leland Speed, who said, “Pretty sells; ugly don’t.”
O’Toole added, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani also said, “If you don’t fix broken windows, you are going to have more broken windows.”
She added the city should build for the population it wants to live here.
Some other recommendations, little things that could have high impact, included:
• spruce up signage near Rust College and add way-finding signage in the city.
• sponsor a welcome back to Holly Springs event in the fall for college students.
• continue to develop Facebook pages for out-of-the-ordinary places, like Tyson’s Funky Monkey.
• recruit and develop out-of-the-ordinary, historically chic, historically fun retail that can’t be found anywhere else.
• extend WiFi throughout the city. Businesses like J.B.’s that offer WiFi attract customers. Marshall County Library also offers WiFi.
• publicize events on Facebook. Stephanie McKinney does a good job of promoting events on Facebook and local shopping opportunities on the tourism website, O’Toole said.
• optimize branding by use of key words on websites and brochures. Create links to all businesses and government websites to get higher on a Google search. The city needs to link its website. “If a potential developer can’t find you, you are off the list,” O’Toole said.
• create a consistent message. Emphasize the arts – blues, artists, potters. Inquire about the Mississippi’s Creative Economy initiative at MDA (www.mscreativeeconomy.com). Support initiatives that attract young, creative people.
• develop a sense of community unity. “Make it y’all, not us and them,” she said.
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