By Leah Barbour
By providing Magnolia State communities with infrastructure-development experts and other resources, a Mississippi State-based service institute continues working to improve the quality of life in rural municipalities.
Since its establishment in 1976, the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development has worked to build on the land-grant university’s tradition of service. Led by Executive Director W. Martin “Marty” Wiseman, the organization continually is assisting communities in identifying and incorporating assets that benefit residents, said project director Joe Fratesi.
“As communities work to identify and address the different issues and challenges they’re facing, we hope that they will call Stennis,” Fratesi said. “As much as we can, we’ll try to find the most appropriate resources to address the issue. When other institutions on our campus besides Stennis can benefit those communities, we try to tie them in. It is our role to identify who can best help us address these Mississippi communities’ needs.”
Many rural communities across the state are taking advantage of the institute’s resources, from participating in inquiry sessions led by institute experts to receiving and implementing recommendations to improve quality of life.
City benefits from services
Jefferson Davis County and the Webster County city of Eupora are among local governments recently benefitting from services and expertise provided by the institute.
In Jefferson Davis County, Community Development Association Director Ben Hambry sought guidance about whether the CDA and county chamber of commerce should merge. Joining Fratesi to assist in this situation was Chance McDavid, regional coordinator for the MSU Extension Service’s Broadband Education and Adoption Team.
To discover what county officials envisioned for their community’s future was the underlying goal of the meeting, Fratesi said. He and McDavid sought the opinions of local stakeholders about the role of the chamber and the CDA in the community, as well as how expanded broadband access could improve economic opportunities.
“Combining the chamber with the CDA made sense because the county is a small community with limited resources,” Fratesi said. “When you can partner and bring these things together, it’s going to make sense, but there’s more to it. There’s determining board structure and figuring out who does what.”
Fratesi and other institute staff members continue to research the community’s visions for the chamber and CDA. In coming months, they will return to the county to present a summary and recommendations.
In Eupora, city leaders recently received a summary and recommendations, including the institute’s conceptual design for use of a vacant, 11-acre property that once was home to Garan Manufacturing. The site is located on Highway 9 South between Government Avenue and Mississippi Street.
Jeremy Murdock, institute research associate, first visited the site in late summer of 2012. In February, he met with the board of aldermen, Mayor Tommy Lott and other community leaders to begin work on a long-term plan.
At a mid-April presentation to the aldermen, Murdock provided details of how the land might be used in the future and how new zoning ordinances could facilitate that development.
“As far as design and planning goes, the end goal, no matter what you do — whether it’s land use or doing site plans — involves creating an environment for people,” Murdock said. “We want to have a place where people like to be. To create a space where people want to go and enjoy and experience is not difficult, but it may take a few more steps.”
Design for people
The institute plan called for city leaders to consider the site as a long-term investment and guide commercial development in such a way as to maintain what’s unique and special about Eupora. Murdock also suggested that trees on the lot be maintained and, as money comes available through grants or other outlets, develop the green space with sidewalks and common spaces.
North Mississippi Medical Center-Eupora is one block away from the 11-acre site and a much-used walking track is adjacent.
“This is a really big piece of property right in the middle of your community. It’s a critical piece of property that could have a lot of impact on the future of Eupora,” Murdock said. “If you start designing for the people you will get people.”
MSU’s Stennis Institute experts want to engage Magnolia State communities with planning and development questions. Call 662-325-6703 to learn more.