Speed: Use Katrina incentives now

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; If communities are going to use federal post-Katrina incentives to lure new businesses and expand existing ones, they better do it quickly.

Leland Speed, director of the Mississippi Development Authority, told state tourism leaders tax credits and other incentives Congress recently passed to bring more business to south Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina will start expiring in a year.

Speed was the speaker Monday at the Governor&8217;s Conference on Tourism. The conference will last all week at Natchez Convention Center.

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Speed said that even the renovation of an existing hotel or the renovation of a house as a bed-and-breakfast inn could qualify.

&8220;And you could write off 50 percent of your investment in your first year (above the amount it cost you to buy the property) against your federal taxes,&8221; Speed said.

But the incentives included under the Gulf Opportunity, or GO, Zone act begin expiring at the start of 2007 and will be largely gone at the end of 2008 unless extended by Congress.

So Speed urged attendees to quickly brainstorm what their communities&8217; strengths are &8212; music heritage, cultural attractions and so on &8212; and use those strengths to help attract related businesses.

Speed gave two examples of tourism trends Mississippi communities are now cashing in on.

The first is heritage tourism, he said, citing the example of a tour operator from Israel who is putting together a Southern Jewish heritage tour of from Memphis to New Orleans.

The second trend is that of purchasing second homes, especially with the baby boomers reaching retirement age. He noted Natchez is capitalizing on that trend with the development of a condo complex on the bluff.

&8220;We&8217;ve got to be specific, to see what we&8217;ve got and what we can aspire to be the best at,&8221; Speed said.

Also, Speed emphasized the importance of communities working together to market whole regions of the state to tourists instead of going it alone.

Gov. Haley Barbour will speak at the conference today.