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Oxford Primed For Small Business Growth

According to U.S. Census data, Oxford has grown by more than 60 percent over the course of the past 10 years, thanks in large part to enrollment increases at Ole Miss.  In recent years, the city has also made several “best” lists, including one ranking the town as a great place to open a business.

“It is not surprising to me that Oxford made the list of the top places to start a business. With the excellent quality of life, which Oxford offers, and its geographic location, it is expected to grow,” said Robert Forster, chief operations officer at the Mississippi Small Business Development Center.

Forster says the population growth has clearly been an asset to small business.  For example, Grandma Slackers Fun Pets is a head shop, or smoke shop, containing urban art, gifts, incense and smoking accessories. Grandma Slackers, only 5 years old, has already expanded once.

“I ran a business a lot like this in another college town — Georgia Southern, in Statesboro, Ga. — with another person, and one day I realized I knew how to do everything, so I decided to start on my own,” said owner James Funk.  “I came to Oxford for two reasons.  One — I didn’t want to be competition for my old boss, and two — I heard that Oxford needed this kind of market, and I heard that from two states away.”

High-end boutiques line the Oxford Square, and though the city has it’s share of fast food and chains, some of the most popular businesses in Oxford include locally owned and managed restaurants.

“Mississippians prefer, culturally, to deal with local small business owners and I do not imagine that will change,” Forster said.  “Population growth, managed by enlightened city officials and supported by the proper tax structure, creates a pro to growth.”

Forster says Oxford’s success didn’t happen overnight, though.  He said the structure to support business growth was already in place years ago and has been one reason for the population growth that has occurred in the past decade.

Rebel Rags“Rebel Rags opened its doors on October 6, 2006 with a dream of becoming the #1 Ole Miss fan store,” said store owner Terry Warren.

The boutique carries Rebel memorabilia, tailgating supplies and Ole Miss apparel for every season.  Warren says the popularity of the store has increased as Ole Miss enrollment and fan base has grown.

According to Forster, the number of law firms, accounting firms, financial consultants, direct writing insurance agencies and other professional service businesses have also increased significantly in Oxford’s recent past.  Another part of the appeal is that Ole Miss faculty provides a resource as consultants and promoters, too.  And sometimes, it’s just the lure of coming back to a place filled with happy memories says Forster.

“Many business savvy alumni are retiring to Oxford and for economic reason want to continue to work.  The Oxford economy offers them an opportunity to start a new business, keep busy, and enhance their income. “

James Funk, owner of Grandma Slackers Fun Pets, shares his personal experience as a young entrepreneur with a new small business in Oxford.

Story contributed by Ole Miss journalism student Tara Chills, tschills@go.olemiss.edu.


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