By Mickey Howley
Six year ago the Water Valley Main Street Association was in the process of a Zip Code Survey. This survey asked local merchants to simply ask their customers for the zip dode they lived in. No names or phone numbers or e-mail addresses, the survey was just to find out who shops downtown Water Valley. It seemed simple, but it was critical information. Were Valley residents patronizing their own downtown merchants? Who else nearby was coming here? Who else nearby was not coming here and how far do folks come from to shop the Valley?
What we found was almost nobody from Oxford was coming here, but a fair amount of shoppers were coming from the west side of Yalobusha County and Bruce area. And perhaps the worst was local folks were not shopping as local as they could.
That Zip Code Survey was just the first part of a larger economic study of Water Valley. What we also looked at was a comparison between population spending and local tax revenue. Sales taxes are reported in very specific categories. And you can fairly accurately calculate the general amount of money in the area used to purchase in those same categories. And what came up is there was lots of local money “escaping” the Valley and Yalobusha to other towns and counties.
We were bleeding green and that was hurting downtown and I’d also suggest the town as a whole. The challenge then and now is how to capture those local fleeing funds going to benefit other places—their jobs, their commercial district, the sales profit, and sales taxes—and keep them here. If you want to be strong you keep your money local where it benefits the most.
So using this economic data from six years ago Main Street was able to get the information out about what opportunities are here to be “captured” from the already existing escaping money. There is a strong relationship between keeping that money here, downtown jobs, buildings back in service, and quality of life for a community. Six years later the effect is 70 new jobs downtown, about 5 million in private investment in the center of town, a whole bunch of empty historic commercial buildings now back alive, the surrounding residential areas doing much better, and a minor miracle, even some Oxonians shopping the Valley.
Economic data is critical for people starting up or expanding a business, but it also is a bit ephemeral. It has a shelf life. The information from six years ago has changed. There is new information and Tuesday October 14 at 6:00 p.m. Rachael Carter and Sumner Davis from Mississippi State’s Economic Development Center will present the latest local economic data. If you are in business and trying to hold you own or maybe expand or thinking about starting a business, this is the information you need. Be sure and come to this presentation and discussion at the Water Valley courthouse. Or as another bald guy from Louisiana once said to a guy from Arkansas, “It’s the economy, stupid.” James Carville’s brash comment still holds, without a strong economy—a local one—not much else is possible.