By Mickey Howley
A statewide economic report out in the press this week talks about how Mississippi’s economy isn’t expected to improve much until 2014, according to the latest outlook provided by University Research Center at the Mississippi Institu-tions of Higher Learning. That conclusion, announced late last Thursday, also said a “ragged recovery” is slowing employment growth. It is growth – and that is good – but not red hot growth. Senior economist Dr. Mari-anne Hill authored the report.
Dr. Hill forecasts a slow retail growth and slower overall growth than the national average. That’s not really earth shattering news, as Mississippi’s economy does not speed up with the hot money states. On the other hand, when times are tough, Mississippi does not slow down or suffer as much. I love hearing the real old-timers say they did not know the Great Depression had hit—they could not tell the difference.
But my guess is Dr. Hill has not been to Water Valley recently. That’s too bad, because I think she’d see another angle on the local economy. Just in the last weeks two new stores have opened on Main Street and another one expanded. That’s great news for downtown and proves once again the Valley is ahead of the economy.
Now these stores have opened because the businessmen and businesswomen investing in them and working them believe they’ll be successful. They believe Water Valley is a good place to be and do business. And their economic faith comes from a reason, they see folks shopping and buying local. Shop local first for the coming holiday season—it is a big chunk of many retailer’s year and the impact of keeping your money local is tremendous.
Two weeks ago when the MSU architect students were in town, we all walked around downtown. I always like to point out the challenges historic downtowns have with large commercial buildings. Large buildings that were built for one purpose and now are being used for another.
Two great examples are the former Trusty Hotel and Parker Building. Today we know them as the Corner-stone and BTC buildings. Both buildings were empty structures having outlived their original purpose. But structures that were worth saving. So when Steve and Teresa Thompson saved the Trusty and years later Kagan Coughlin and Alexe van Beuren saved the Parker, the challenge was how to fill the space and make the buildings economically viable. Because a commercial building, historic or not, is not a hobby nor is it a house. It needs to work and produce. Both buildings now have apartments and offices up top, but it is the ground floor “retail” space that is always the greater challenge. And if you go in either place you’ll see a split of sorts. I call it the frontend/backend combo. It is the combo that makes these buildings and businesses successful.
Cornerstone has the gym in front and the BTC has the grocery. Back end at Corner-stone is the rehabilitation center and backside of the BTC is the cafe. Able crews run both backs of the buildings with able crew chiefs—Jennifer McGavock at Cornerstone and Dixie Grimes at the BTC. It is the kind of economy in action Dr. Hill should see.