By Mickey Howley
The Mayor was busy last Tuesday March 26. I know many of you see Mayor Hart as this guy who rides around in a Chevy step-side, perhaps aggravating city em-ployees in the course of their work. But, last week he was welcoming folks from all over Mississippi to Water Valley. And doing a great job.
There were two professional groups in town, both used to meeting and greeting lots of people and therefore not easily wowed. But what the Mayor said, plus what all that the visitors specifically saw, and Water Valley in general made a good solid impression.
The first group, in town from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, were the Main Street directors from across north Mississippi. The people who run their associations in their respective towns. The downtown directors from Corinth, Her-nando, Olive Branch, Ripley, Baldwyn, New Albany, Tupelo, Como, Pontotoc, Batesville, Okolona, Kosci-usko, Starkville, West Point, Tunica, and Holly Springs were here. Main Street staff from Jackson, Columbus, and Oxford came, too.
The meeting was on the second floor of the BTC building and the group also got a tour of the apartments there and insight as to how to make an historic commercial building economically function and add to the community. WV has two great examples of that type of re-habilitation, the Trusty Ho-tel/Cornerstone and the Parker Building/BTC. Now at the BTC building thirteen people either live or work there. So when a place like that, or any commercial building for that matter, sits empty there is a significant lost number of jobs and tax revenue (property, sales, income) and sales that could have been retained locally but go to other communities. And as part of the job, Main Street Directors are always looking for positive examples of building and business combinations that work, to keep their downtown buildings working and people employed.
The second group in town was twenty-five folks from the 14 Mississippi Welcome Centers around the state. As the Mayor pointed out, these are often the first people visitors see when they arrive in the state. The Welcome Center crews do an engaging, friendly, and necessary job of telling people what there is to see and do. They are great PR team for the state. And as former professional travelling man, I can tell you Mississippi has some of the best welcome centers in the nation. They are always nice and clean, the coffee is hot, and the staff well informed. Tourism is big business for Mississippi and it is not just the coast and casinos, but also the historical towns throughout the state and the “creative economy” businesses in them. And that is what the Welcome Center staffs were here to see. The Mississippi Tourism Division is promoting the creative economy, as they know the same creative energy that guides our artists, writers and musicians also inspires our innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs. And in Water Valley they see the appeal of our small town quality of life has for visitors. I’m not saying we’re destined to be a big tourist stop, tourism being the cherry on top of the icing on top of the whole economic cake.
Tourism confirms what is going on is good. But now in this tourism context, Water Valley is becoming a key piece in the regional picture of why folks would want to visit, and maybe even live, in the area.