Community leaders called to action

Published 12:21 am Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NATCHEZ — Anyone can plan, but those that actually take action to better their communities prove the doers care the most, Ruth Nichols said.

Nichols, the director of external relations for Alcorn State University, was one of many local leaders who attended a meeting Tuesday that introduced 35 community movers and shakers to a program that aims to improve Natchez-Adams County.

An interactive workshop hosted by the City of Natchez, Natchez Chamber of Commerce and Natchez Inc. June 15 and 16 will focus on using design and planning principals to develop the community.

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“Where are we now? Where does the community want to go? How does the community get there?” are questions Chamber President Debbie Hudson posed to those invited to attend the workshop preview at the Natchez Convention Center.

The workshop will seek to answer those questions first and use maps, pens, markers and tracing paper to make a plan to better the community.

The program is inspired by a Mississippi State University workshop called Your Town Mississippi, which Nichols and Chris Hinton of Natchez Inc. attended in Louisville, last week.

At the workshop, Nichols and Hinton teamed up with business and community leaders from around the state to plan and design fictitious cities, which taught them about the process of planning.

They, along with Rene Adams who attended the workshop last year, will bring their experience to apply what they learned to the local workshop next month to help implement ideas.

An important step in the process, Nichols said, is to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of Natchez-Adams County.

The Mississippi State Community Action Team and Mississippi Development Authority have already identified those good and challenging qualities of Natchez based on First Impressions — a study conducted by outside visitors several years ago.

Some of Natchez’s strengths, according to a handout given at Tuesday’s meeting include the Mississippi River, the Natchez Trace Parkway, an impressive downtown area, an overall friendly atmosphere and people, the regionalism effort, numerous civic and nonprofit organizations, a variety and number of churches and the local WIN Job Center.

Some of its weaknesses include poor signage — making the city difficult to navigate, lack of organizational support and cooperation, a rundown perimeter of the city, proximity to the Mississippi River not being used enough, poor ratings/perceptions for the school system, unattractive entrances to city and lack of strong recycling programs.

Some opportunities include diversifying downtown retail, improving education, encouraging and expanding current Farmer’s Market to support incubation of all small businesses and adding rental opportunities.

Some threats include commercial/retail shopping areas detracting from historical downtown, large events potentially causing problems for parking downtown, poor areas discouraging increased tourism and further growth and concern for the school system.

Those who attended represented a variety of facets of leadership including, government, health care, tourism, economic development, communications, education, recreation and more.

“That’s what the word community is all about,” Hudson said.

While many different types of leaders may have ideas or plans of their own, Hudson said the workshop would help merge those ideas, allowing everyone have a hand in bettering the community.

Nichols said action is the key word in making plans take life.

“It is our responsibility to create our town. If we don’t do it nobody else is going to come in here and do it for us,” Nichols said.