Mayor’s Council: Much accomplished in 2019
NATCHEZ — It has been a little more than a year since Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell appointed the first members to the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Council.
Looking back, a lot has been accomplished since then, council members said.
An inaugural meeting of the council was held in September 2018 and continued to meet once a week on each Monday since.
Grennell said one of his hopes after he leaves office in July is that the new mayoral administration will take over and continue to lead weekly meetings with community stakeholders and other elected officials so that Natchez and Adams County can keep moving forward in a positive direction in terms of economic growth.
To understand why this assembly is important, Grennell said each council member had been asked to compile a list that highlights milestones achieved in the past year.
“We want to end the year 2019 for the economic development council with some good news about the city,” Grennell said.
Below is a look back at 2019 and what members said they were able to achieve.
Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said Natchez Inc. has helped facilitate the establishment, growth of and expansion of several new and existing industries in the past year.
Vidalia Denim employs 35 people regionally while Syrah Technologies’ recently completed facility employs 15, Russ said.
Lincoln Terminals also completed its liquid petrochemical distribution facility at the Natchez Adams County Port — which was a $17.5 million investment, Russ said.
Existing industries that have expanded in the past year include Great River Industries, Jones Lumber Company and Stribling Equipment, Russ said.
CoreCivic, which operates the Adams County Correctional Center, was also able to retain and expand its workforce after contracting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Russ said.
In addition to tax dollars, Russ said ICE shares approximately $400,000 a year worth of revenue with Adams County from inmates housed at the facility.
Russ said Natchez Inc.’s lobbying efforts have also influenced several legislative wins in the past year, including $1 million awarded for the construction of the Belwood Levee, reinstatement of the non-resident clause for movie and film production in Mississippi and funding awarded for the Proud to Take a Stand Monument.
“Natchez Inc. will be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its creation in 2010,” Russ said. “Since its creation, more than $10 million in property taxes have been paid in Adams County by eight new industries, and two new industries in Concordia Parish have paid more than $200,000 in property taxes to date.”
Besides industrial growth, another important arm of the Natchez economy is tourism.
Jennifer Combs, Executive Director of Visit Natchez and the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission, said a top priority to better the tourists’ experiences in Natchez is to engage the local community in Natchez tourism.
One way Visit Natchez and the NCPC has done this is through the “Learn from Our Locals” campaign, Combs said, in which the group creates a digital showcase of a different local person or business each week to help both visitors and the community learn more about the area.
“We feel that it is really important to champion our local partners and to sing their praises,” Combs said. “… We did a weekly campaign to highlight our locals and share who they are, because we are all Natchez tourism.”
Combs said the group has also worked to draw tourists to community events by constantly promoting Natchez events and supporting the development of new events and groups, including the Soul Food Fusion Festival, Y’all Means All Natchez, Harmony in the Park and the Crepe Myrtle Festival to name a few.
Combs said Visit Natchez also served as a resource for promoting special events such as the Super Retrievers Crown Championship in September — which resulted in one of the attendees sponsoring a K9 for the Natchez Police Department.
“This just goes to show that supporting events on a national scale — whether it’s through labor, time or funding — really has a positive effect on the entire community,” Combs said.
Combs said Visit Natchez has also hosted 52 journalists and photographers from around the world and three different conferences that highlight local and regional tourism partners, including the Rural Tourism Conference, the Delta Regional Leadership Conference and the Mississippi River Commission.
Through new digital marketing tactics, Visit Natchez has gathered more than 11,000 new followers across various social media platforms over the course of the year, Combs said.
Natchez has also earned several media accolades this year, Combs said, including being named one of USA Today’s Best Historic Small Towns, one of Matador Network’s 25 Coolest Towns in America in 2019 and one of 11 most charming southern small towns in the U.S. on tripstodiscover.com.
Archaeological research conducted earlier this year at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians identified a missing mound under layers of flood sediment, said site director Lance Harris, adding the research would be utilized in a “newly imagined Grand Village.”
“Although the full expansion project at the site is scheduled for a later date, efforts have been undertaken to improve the outdoor experience at the site,” Harris said. “New exterior exhibits will be installed in early 2020 and a new virtual reality exhibit will also be unveiled in the spring of 2020 that can be utilized on-site or on electronic devices anywhere in the world.”
Harris said the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has also funded and facilitated several preservation efforts at Windsor Ruins, Historic Jefferson College and other historic structures.
Historic Natchez Foundation Executive Director, Carter Burns said MDAH announced earlier this week that $500,000 from the Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program had been awarded for rehabilitation projects at the Natchez Institute and Temple B’Nai Israel.
A grant had also been received to digitize a portion of historic courthouse records that are being housed in the basement of the Natchez Institute.
Burns said the Historic Natchez Foundation also facilitated changes to the Natchez Balloon Festival for a successful event this year that featured a new name, a new logo and a new partnership with Ardenland music.
Additionally, the Historic Natchez Foundation also finished restoring the exterior of the Prentiss Club building, which burned in September 2018, Burns said.
Copiah Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus has integrated several new programs and certification courses in the last year, including an EMT program, night welding classes, ACT scholarship opportunities and has assumed full operation of the WIN Job Center on campus as of October.
Co-lin will be adding other programs in the near future as well, including Certified Clinical Medical Assistant classes, Certified Nursing Assistant classes and will soon be adding a new diesel lab for it’s Diesel Technology program.
A few enhancements are also planned for the Natchez-Adams County Airport in the upcoming year, including a $4 million runway-resurfacing project — which would be mostly covered by the Federal Aviation Administration and state funding.
Adams County would need to supply approximately $200,000 of the cost, which could possibly be funded by a grant, airport officials said.
Bids will also be taken in January to update the runway lighting, allowing lights to be turned on by pilots as they are preparing to land rather than the lights remaining on throughout the night, airport officials said. The update, which is required under new FAA regulations, is expected to cost approximately $300,000 and 99% of the cost would be paid by the state, officials said.