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Mississippi’s Creative Economy

Recently, I attended a meeting my good friend, Malcolm White, Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission put together. The meeting was made up of those in North Mississippi who are directly involved or interested in tourism.

During the meeting, Malcolm said something to the effect that on a daily basis, Mississippians touch the lives of most of the people on the planet. I have to admit that for a few seconds after he made this bold statement, I was a little puzzled and really wasn’t sure where he was coming from. Then, Malcolm went on to say that a boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, named Elvis and his music is played somewhere on the planet during every minute of every day.

Malcolm additionally said that Hartley Peavey, another Mississippian from Meridian who is the inventor of the Peavey musical instruments, touches the lives of people on the planet every day. Hartley’s musicals instruments –– guitars, guitar amplifiers –– have been purchased by parents all over the world and given to their young children who in the past 40 years have gown up and made some incredible music that has effected all of us.

Think of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd who have always used Peavey musical gear. There are other famous bands and entertainers who have shaped our world after they have picked up one of Hartley’s musical instruments. Then, there are the authors –– John Grisham, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and so many more, who’s works have moved us through their writings and films.

Malcolm referred to this phenomena as Mississippi’s “Creative Economy” –– a term we are all beginning to hear. These words refer to the sector of our economy that is created by those who are more in line with the arts and other various creations than anything else.

Think of Oxford. Back in the early eighties when I attended Ole Miss, Oxford was somewhat of a sleepy small town. Then, the creative types moved in around the downtown Square. There was a place called The Hoka –– a dive that showed independent films and served some unique food. It was also a late night coffee house.

Then, Square Books opened on the Square and the Neilson Department Store people took a chance an opened the first fine dining restaurant on the Square. Not long after that, the Square became very active with art galleries, modern retail stores, and other food places moved in. Thus, a creative cluster of interesting places on the Square began to take shape and the, “If you build it, they will come” idea exploded in Oxford. Today, Oxford is so overflowing with “visitors” (tourists is what I call them) that it is difficult to find a parking spot.

As we look for ways to grow the state economically, in my view, tourism is one of our best hopes. Mississippi, and especially the Mississippi Delta, offers the world an extremely unique place to visit and no doubt we need to kick things up a notch in 2012 with our tourism efforts here in the Delta so we too can take advantage of this Creative Economy concept.

Malcolm said there are five tips in growing a Creative Economy through tourism:

1.) View your offerings as a visitor/consumer.

2.) Educate the community and community leaders on your offerings and the value of these to the area.

3.) Package your offerings with others in your community (bring it all together for the experience).

4.) Work and market regionally (look beyond city and county lines).

5.) Utilize your local and State Tourism offices.

Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Film Commission, and Joy Foy from the Mississippi Development Authority were also at the meeting, and they offered these impressive tourism figures in Mississippi:

*Travel and tourism expenditures now exceed $5.8 billion a year. Broken down, this means that Mississippi is bringing in more than $1 million a day in tourism dollars.

*Travel and tourism general fund revenues are $370 million.

*More than 80,000 people are now employed or make their living in the tourism industry in our state.

*Annual payroll for travel and tourism direct jobs exceeds $1.72 billion each year.

MIssissippi has a wealth of creative talents and many opportunities for creative industries. These can be a very positive force in the Delta’s economy and particularly through collaborative tourism initiatives throughout the entire state.

There are many possibilities for the Delta in this “Creative Economy”.

Stay tuned, some exciting times are ahead for our state!

Scott Coopwood, a seventh generation Deltan, lives in Cleveland, Mississippi, with his wife Cindy and their three children. Scott is the publisher and owner of Delta Magazine, one of the South’s leading lifestyle publications, the Delta Business Journal, the first business publication in the Mississippi Delta; and Cleveland’s weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Current . Scott’s company also publishes two weekly e-newsletters. Coopwood publishing concerns now reach 250,000 people.  Scott is also a 1984 graduate of the University of Mississippi. He can be reached at scott@coopwood.net


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