By Mickey Howley
Sometimes it helps to get out and see the planet, see what others are doing to improve their world and return hopefully with enough ideas to make your own place better.
Last week was such a week; I went working in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Never left Mississippi. We often here talk about the Delta region, how everything that is negative about Mississippi is amplified in the Delta—the towns are dying faster, the folks are fatter and poorer, the future is bleaker. And that might be true if you’re living in towns like Greenville or Clarksdale or Yazoo City. But not if you live in Cleveland. It is a different kind of Delta. Not only does Cleveland have art and music, but steady industry and solid education. And the local economy is strong. Cleveland pulls in more money than leaves it, by almost a 2 to 1 ratio. The money is not escaping, but coming in. Downtown buildings are occupied.
Can they improve—sure! But they are doing well and they are doing so because they planned to do so. Cleveland beat out New Orleans and Memphis to be the site of the new Grammy Museum. Imagine what that takes. Check out www.keepclevelandboring.com. It’s anything but…
I was in Philadelphia looking at their Main Street with other state town directors. I have visited the town over the years because of a family connection. The first of many trips was in the mid 1970s. Then downtown Philadelphia was busy on Saturday, but nonetheless still slowly a fading place. Through the years of the 1980s and 1990s, it slowly devolved to where it was near husk of its former self.
And now in the 2010s, I’m very happy to say, the town is really coming back. Philadelphia is at an all time population high—not many Mississippi small towns can say that—and is on a progressive track thanks to a critical combination of energy, education, vision, and economic development.
Leaving Cleveland last Tuesday, I tuned the car radio to Governor Bryant’s State of the State address. Listening to his speech, it seemed to me the Governor is interested in two main things—education and economic development. And he wants quality first in both. By the way he had a nice plug for Water Valley as one of several Mississippi towns where a skilled workforce and high tech manufacturing are really making a difference. But his combining education and economic development is key; it is much more attractive to be smart and savvy than cheap and dumb.
The next morning, while driving to Philadelphia, Mississippi Development Authority Director Brent Christensen was on the radio making some succinct points about economic development. Brent said there are three equal legs to economic development: attracting new businesses from outside, helping existing businesses grow, and developing new homegrown businesses. Moving forward but keeping balanced on all three legs is the key to the sustainable development everyone wants.
What can you do? Keep the town’s economy strong by supporting local businesses. Your money will keep working here and that benefits you again and again. How can you help more? Focus on achievement in education—sure sports are fine—but education is what makes the difference over a lifetime and starting early is the best way.
This Friday night Feb. 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Bozarts Gallery there is an opening reception for a new show called “The Mississippians.”
The subtitle for the show is “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” Portraits of folks dead or alive. Trust me, you know some of them personally.