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First and Green Town Square and parking

What is a woman from New York doing in Grenada, MS?

A native New Yorker, what am I doing in these parts? I moved to Grenada 10 years ago for the  Coley and Debbest of reasons: I married the inimitable Coley Bailey, who also sees himself as an outsider, from Coffeeville in neighboring Yalobusha County. A cotton farmer and pilot, his farm office has been in Grenada for decades. As chairman of Mississippi Chemical, he brought Newsprint South to Grenada, and sold them the land on which the Resolute Forest Products plant sits today.

Diving in to Grenada Economic Development

Shortly after my arrival, Coley became chairman of the Grenada Economic Development District, and the Board of Supervisors allocated funds to it for the first time. Given my business experience both starting and restarting various enterprises, he suggested I join the effort. The EDD’s first step was to undertake an analysis of Grenada’s competitive position, which I led.

Grenada Assets…..and Liabilities

We explored the many assets Grenada has to offer. In the 1950s, our leaders succeeded in attracting industry. They touted the strong workforce we had, comprised largely of folks displaced by the building of Grenada Lake, and the low cost structure compared to more industrialized areas. As a result, today Grenada boasts a 32% manufacturing payroll, versus the national average of under 12%. In another farsighted move, Grenada folks insisted on a consolidated county-wide school system and raised funds to build modern school facilities.

These acts of courage differentiate Grenada from many Mississippi counties. Add to them our location on Interstate 55 halfway between Memphis and Jackson, our rail service and our airport, and Grenada has many strengths in the race to attract new employers. We also brought in consultants to do mock site selection searches, who pointed out some weaknesses to address.  The good news: it was within local control to fix the issues: the drop out rate, the organization of our response to inquiry from new employers, and the condition of our downtown Square. “We will not bring employers to a place that has so little self respect that it abandons its downtown.” rang in my ears.

Finding Pablo Diaz

We next went about recruiting the first director and framing the website, which we named 2009-11-12 15.39.49GrenadaMeansBusiness.com. Well qualified applicants, not just from Mississippi but from other states as well, were interested, and we were delighted when the remarkable Pablo Diaz accepted the role. With Pablo in place, we set about working on community development, as our employers told us they had trouble recruiting talent they as spouses did not see Grenada as an appealing place to live.

Starting GCF

The Grenada Community Foundation (www.GrenadaCF.org) was born, to bring community resources to bear on community issues. Operating on a shoestring, GCF has undertaken a number of initiatives. We built the Employability Campaign, a coalition among Holmes Community College, the WINS Job Center, Grenada League for Adult Development, EDD, GCF, and our manufacturing employers to train out of work people in the skills our employers needed, and to support the educational achievements needed by those not yet qualified. We started the Grenada Farmers Market, bringing local farmers and craftspeople together with local customers eager for fresh produce and handmade goods.

GCF started Grenada Gives 365, attracting local folks who give $1/day to GCF, and then vote once a year on which non profits operating in Grenada receive the money. GCF is fiscal agent for the Grenada AfterGlow Film Festival (www.GrenadaAfterGlow.com) run by the Kinder sisters, and for 25|35, an effort to combat domestic violence, led by Robbie Willis. In our latest initiative, we are partnering with the Chamber to start a local chapter of SCORE, to bring support to creation and success of small businesses in Grenada.

Mississippi Children’s Collaborative

One of our projects has been creation of the Mississippi Children’s Collaborative, designed to MCC_Logo+tagline_v1support improvement in early childhood development in Grenada by working with the early learning centers and providing resources to families with small children. Research has shown repeatedly that the quality of early experiences has a huge impact on success later in life, in school readiness, in reading scores, in high school and college graduation rates. Importantly for Grenada, the research also shows increased success in employment, higher tax revenues, lower crime rates, and lower costs of law enforcement and incarceration.

We worked with MSU to create the Grenada Early Learning Advantage Center, staffed by Early Years Network and offering training to all area child care providers as well as a lending library of toys and books and games to all Grenada citizens. Through GCF’s work, the approach to working with child care centers has been changed in all 82 MS counties. It is our hope that these initiatives will support the efforts of the Grenada School District to increase the high school graduation rate and the rate of college enrollment, thus addressing one of the concerns raised in the EDD strategic assessment.

And now…investing in Downtown. Or is it Uptown?

Fortunately, job growth in the Grenada area has been strong. But what about downtown? ColeyTwilight Shot of Square and I renovated an office building one block off the Square in 2008, to house our various endeavors. We saw the beauty of the Square every day, and also saw that the few remaining merchants could not invest in restoring the lovely buildings, nor pursue a strategy to increase traffic. Meanwhile the lovely old buildings continued to deteriorate.

In 2013, I put my retirement money into buying a number of buildings, including 42 Main Street (now Sabrina Howell’s office), 115 Main Street, 135, 131, 109, and 97 First Street (First & Green), and 120, 124, and 158 Green Street, and have set about restoring and repurposing them.

 The joys of tax credits

To my delight, I discovered that improvement costs of these buildings were eligible for state (25%) and federal tax credits (20%). Todd Sanders and Bill Gatlin of Mississippi Department of Archives and History traveled to Grenada, and nominated the whole downtown area, the Grenada Downtown Historic District, to the National Register of Historic Places. In late 2014, the nomination was accepted, and the owners of all properties in the district can apply for tax credits in connection with improvements to their properties. (Owners, did you hear me?)

First & Green is taking off (knock on wood)

Working with these buildings has been challenging, absorbing, and profoundly gratifying as the 2015-10-16 15.07.19beauty is restored and people from near and far start to use and enjoy our flagship property, First & Green. We are delighted to be heavily booked well into 2016, and are developing a reputation for providing excellent food and service.

Planning a wedding or a corporate meeting? A holiday party or a family reunion?  Come over to First & Green and let us show you what we can do.

And then…

Future posts will explore the craziness of restoration,  how to apply for the tax credits, our plans for the buildings, their reconstruction, the design and building of the First & Green kitchen, and the joy of cooking in it. What else would you like to explore here?

 

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