March 15, 2010

A New Community Center in Sturgis?

We were glad to have the opportunity to meet with Mayor Turner in Sturgis last week to discuss the feasibility of having a local church building converted into a community center. When church numbers dwindled several years ago, the few remaining church members decided to dontate the facility to the town. This is a great way to increase civic involvement and provide a means for folks to gather.

A lot needs to happen to completely renovate the facility, but a vision for what "can be" is always a starting point. We also appreciate Dr. Chris Smith from the Bagley College of Engineering at MSU for taking time to join us on the visit and help determine what structural issues must be addressed. Hopefully, this will turn into a great project for engineering students. It's a terrific way to give an old building a new purpose that will come in quite handy for years to come.

MSCAT looks forward to continued assistance and follow up as this project moves forward. This has the potential to be a really great community-driven project.

Great Things Continue for Quitman

Mayor Fulton and community leaders traveled to MSU last week to see the great work done by MSU graphic design students. Multiple ideas for a logo for branding purposes were on display, and the Quitman folks left campus with a chosen favorite. This is an exciting opportunity for student work to be applied with real world application to help brand a community to make it more appealing to residents and visitors alike.

A lot of energy can be found throughout Quitman. The townsfolk really embraced the First Impressions program and have since implemented many ideas for improvement. A new design for a city park, painted and updated downtown buildings, and other improvements are just the beginning as the community looks to the future. MSCAT looks forward to providing additional assistance to help Quitman build a more prosperous community. Hats off to you!

January 22, 2010

Grassroots Foundation Working to Transform Their Community

I had the pleasure recently to meet with Dr. Corena Miller, President of the John Wesley Miller Community Foundation in Choctaw County. This foundation originated in 2008 in memory of her father. who was a community activist of the Spay/Pandhandle Community. It's mission is to promote equality and positive social change in the community.

The foundation was recently successful in receiving two grants from the Choctaw County Economic Development Foundation to purchase tools for ongoing community clean-up projects and nice signage to help identify and set apart this community.

It's terrific to see grassroots organizations such as this one actively working for improved quality of life for all residents. The folks in the Spay/Panhandle area of Choctaw County are to be commended for taking a proactive role through "bottoms up" community improvement.

The MSU Community Action Team looks forward to working with the foundation board of directors and residents to help them chart a vision and plan for the future that ensures continued success.

October 12, 2009

Decatur's Downtown Is Coming Along

The First Impressions team that visited Decatur recently was pleasantly surprised at the activity going on downtown in this small community in Newton County. Several business owners are working hard to provide attractive storefronts with container plants and fresh coats of paint. Buildings renovated recently also provide living quarters downtown that are very convenient to East Central Community College.

ECCC is certainly a tremendous asset to the community as is the Turkey Creek Water Park located only minutes away. The schools are also real assets, as they are fairly new buildings that are attractively landscaped. As is is the case in many rural Mississippi towns, the limited tax base provides challenges to local government leaders.

At the presentation last week, a group of approx. 30 community leaders and volunteers were anxious to keep working towards improving their town. I applaud their dedicated service and vision to engage others as they keep moving forward. I would encourage Decatur to continue with beautification efforts downtown and along the major corridors, continue working on renovating downtown businesses, and explore land use planning as it look towards the future.

October 9, 2009

Getting Things Going in Hickory

I had the pleasure of meeting several volunteer Chamber of Commerce board members Monday evening at the First Impressions presentation in Hickory. The community is fairly compact with several tradional downtown buildings and a nice greenspace. A real challenge--as is the case in many small, rural towns across America--is to aggressively look for ways to revitalize their downtown area.

A destination furniture store is located downtown in several buildings. Folks from all over the state and from other states frequent the store to shop. Highway 80 used to be the major east-west corridor prior to Interstate 20. Highway 503 connects Hickory with Decatur just up the road.

I applaud the grassroots volunteer efforts underway to make things happen in town. A grant received a few years ago enabled a walking track/park to be built adjacent to the old school that closed a couple of decades ago. Unfortunately, the school grounds have fallen into disrepair for the most part. I hope the community's leadership and residents can band together and figure out a creative use for this property.

Hickory's future will be a brighter one if the elected officials and the residents work together towards a single vision and attainable goals for the town and work tirelessly to engage folks in the process.

September 29, 2009

Making Meetings Meaningful for MS Municipal Clerks

I really enjoyed last week's opportunity to provide a workshop for the master certification program managed by MSU's Center for Governmental Training and Technology. About 35 municipal clerks participated in the workshop at Lake Tiak O'khata. I must say that municipalities should show appreciation to their clerks every day. They know the nuts and bolts of city business and keep our towns and cities running as smoothly as possible!

Do you ever get tired of "meeting for the sake of meeting?" Too many times, groups tend to think that having a meeting is the answer to everything; however, misunderstanding and lack of accomplishment are two major pitfalls that tend to turn folks away from joining committees and attending meetings altogether.

Correctly designed meetings with properly prepared agendas, logistics, and even ground rules and faciliators can help make meetings run a lot more efficiently. Using techniques such as the slip and poll methods along with negotiated consensus can really help achieve meeting objectives.

I aplaud the clerks for the active participation and discussion and look forward to future opportunities to interact with this fun group.

September 14, 2009

Folks Turn Out in Marion

I enjoyed visiting with about 60 Marion residents last week for the First Impressions presentation. The folks in attendance were ready to take the reins and begin to make a difference in their town.

Bordered by Meridian on three sides, Marion has an opportunity to benefit greatly from its larger neighbor. The team was pleasantly surprised to find many newer subdivisions in town. Also, the confederate cemetery was a nice find as well. It was really interesting to learn that the Marion Dollar General store is at the top of the sales heap for all stores in that region. After a quick visit inside the store, it's no secret that goods are flying off the shelves.

Besides its limited tax base, a challenge for Marion is its lack of a downtown core. Downtowns are the "heartbeats" of any community. They provide a central location where folks can get out of their automobiles and walk, talk, visit, eat, shop...well you get the picture. In communities that are mostly designed for automobile use except for, perhaps, a few residential neighborhoods, it's more of a challenge to try to develop a sense of place and create an environment conducive to community gatherings.

Several folks last week told me they really wanted to see Marion grow and evolve in a positive way. Beginning with community appearance projects is a great first step to creating an inviting community to prospective families and businesses. Residents can get involved quickly, and the impacts can be quite astonishing after only a short time.

It's hard to think about planning for 25 years in the future, but it's important to do so. Creating communities that we want to live in tomorrow requires that we plan accordingly today. Just like many of small towns in Mississippi, Marion has an opportunity to carve out its niche too.

September 3, 2009

First Impressions: Education

We rolled out our FI:Edu project yesterday at a meeting in Greenwood. The meeting was hosted by our partner, the Miss Center for Education Innovation. Attending were mayors and superintendents from Shelby, Alligator, Webb, Rosedale, Greenwood, Port Gibson, Sumner, Belzoni, and Benoit. Other partner groups included Parent for Public Schools, Excel by 5, and SPARK. This is going to be a great project to help towns and schools work together to improve appearances. Our school districts are the largest employers in many of our small towns and maybe the largest buildings. How our schools look, inside and out, iis important. Read more about the project and take a look at the video at

August 31, 2009

Rebuilding Continues on the Coast

It's hard to believe it's been four years since Katrina--America's worst natural disaster in history. Several of us recently got back from site visits to Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Diamondhead for our First Impressions program. In some ways, it's remarkable how fast recovery is happening. In other ways, it's unbelievable how many things look the way Katrina left them.

Having spent a week on the Coast right after the storm, I can remember the horror on people's faces and in their voices. The hurricane's fury was so shocking and so surreal the wounds run deep. Even today, folks are still talking about the storm like it was yesterday. While signs of progress are all around, signs of dispair and painful memories abound.

Several business owners were optimistic. They commented on the progress being made on a daily basis--even though it sometimes seems like recovery will never end. Others are not as optimistic. For example, a local businessman in the Bay said he has gone a whole week and not sold a thing. He's even poured his life savings into his shop of 60 years to keep the doors open. He's diversified his inventory trying to capture additional dollars; it's helping.

It's, indeed, difficult to remain positive during such trying times. The difficulties with recovery combined with an economic downturn only adds insult to injury. Good things are happening though. A determined spirit permeated the entire communitiy. Time will continue to help heal the phyical and emotional scars brought by Katrina's wrath.

August 21, 2009

On a Roll in Quitman

Most folks will agree that meetings aren't always fun, but last night's town hall meeting in Quitman was an exception. Over 150 residents came out with rain and thunderstorms all around to listen and learn ways to move their community to the next level. We applaud Mayor Fulton and all the residents for the outpouring of suppport and concern for their community. Folks showed up early and stayed late. What an awesome thing to witness!

Mississippi Development Authority and MSU's Community Action Team as well as other resource agencies were on hand to set the stage and provide information on the host of resources available to them. Understanding what the data says about your community and understanding the importance of moving forward with a collective vision and a plan to guide that vision is critical.

After the presentations were over and hotdogs were served, folks signed up on committees by the dozens. Talking, sharing, learning, VOLUNTEERING! Building community from within is what it's all about. Success will likely come quickly as these committees continue to evolve and develop strategies to tackle their goals.

The optimism and enthusiasm in the room last night was contagious. This kind of energy will surely result in positive outcomes for Quitman if this momentum continues. Keep up the good work!