MDA head: Let’s make tourism No. 1

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 15, 2004

New Mississippi economic development director Leland Speed said Wednesday he hopes to make tourism the state’s number one service industry.

Speed, appointed head of the Mississippi Development Authority by Gov. Haley Barbour, said that health care is the number one service industry now, but the state has the potential and resources to elevate tourism.

And those involved with tourism in Natchez applauded Speed’s comments, saying they hope more attention will be focused on the marketing of this area.

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&uot;Tourism is the biggest industry in the world … it’s not the biggest industry in Mississippi though,&uot; Speed said.

&uot;With the raw materials that we have to work with in the state, shame on all of us if we don’t make it first. The challenge is how we are going to get there.&uot;

Speed’s comments came at a meeting of the Mississippi Tourism Association in Jackson. Speed said the speech was his first as MDA executive director.

Director of Visitor Services Connie Taunton, who attended the luncheon, said she is &uot;very excited to see, with MDA, that tourism is taking such a high profile. Among the things he wants to put on the front burner, tourism is number one.&uot;

&uot;I absolutely agree with (Speed),&uot; said Regina Charboneau, general manager of Stanton Hall, Longwood and the Carriage House Restaurant.

&uot;Since I moved back to Natchez, what’s so apparent to me is how important tourism is to this entire community.&uot;

MDA officials, Taunton said, are now in the midst of talking to people in the tourism industry in the state &uot;to see where we need to go and what areas we’re lacking in.&uot;

And Taunton said she hopes that the result will be a marketing plan that touts Natchez and other inland destinations as well as the Gulf Coast and Tunica.

&uot;They need to focus as much as they can on Natchez,&uot; Charboneau said. &uot;This is the crown jewel of the state, … very marketable, with more (antebellum) homes, as far as touring, than any other place in America.&uot;