Local officials happy but not satisfied with state’s business startup ranking

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, July 16, 2013

NATCHEZ — Mississippians are apparently ambitious when it comes to business startups, and local economic development authorities say they want to encourage more.

The recently released Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Index of Entrepreneurial ranks Mississippi as being fifth nationally in business startup activity for 2012.

That’s good, Natchez Inc. Project Manager Chris Hinton said, but local economic developers are aiming for even better than that.

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“The recent national Kauffman Foundation ranking illustrates that not only is Natchez in a prime position for entrepreneurship, but so is the State of Mississippi,” he said. “Being ranked No. 5 nationally is quite impressive, but we’re ambitious enough to take that rating to No. 1.”

That can be done in part through a cohesive partnership between Natchez Inc., Alcorn State University and the Mississippi Development Authority that aims to promote and enhance entrepreneurship through education, economic and community development, Hinton said.

The partnership has promoted business summits and entrepreneur training from seasoned veterans for those who want to learn more as they start their businesses, he said.

“Local business leaders who are experts in their chosen professions give back to their community by providing instruction to the class in business startup areas such as marketing, accounting and finance, technology through social media and phone applications, e-commerce, home-based businesses and exporting, to name a few,” Hinton said.

Providing that kind of training is essential for economic growth, said Ruth Nichols, Alcorn’s assistant vice president for educational and community partnership.

“For Mississippi, the creative entrepreneur is huge, and if we really emphasize that and have an ongoing system of support and encouragement, that will do as much for our state as anything,” she said. “It is very obvious that people that have great ideas are not always the best business people.”

And that’s why Nichols said she believes the state ranked so well — Mississippians have a creative, entrepreneurial spirit and economic officials have made a statewide commitment to do whatever it takes for small businesses to be encouraged and to have access to funding.

The Alcorn, Natchez Inc. and MDA partnership will also host a tour of vacant buildings in Natchez later this year.

“We are calling it the ‘Possibilities tour — from vacant spaces to vibrant spaces,’” Nichols said.

“We want to focus on empty buildings in the county, let people come look at them from all over the state. The MDA is going to broadcast that and market it across not only Adams County but all over the state.”

The key to continued entrepreneurial expansion in light of what is already being done and what is being planned, Nichols said, is making sure those opportunities are known to those who would use them.

“If we could just do a better job of promoting the possibilities, every little bit of money that comes into the economy — whether it is a small or large business — is a boost for us,” Nichols said. “Mississippi should take this fact that we are in the top 5 and not the bottom 10, and run with it.”