MSU-run workshop in Louisville helps with community development

From press reports

About 20 municipalities around the Magnolia State stand to benefit from an economic development workshop presented by a Mississippi State institute. YourTown, Mississippi, an interactive educational workshop, is administered by the university’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development. The program is designed to teach community development methods using basic design and planning principles. In addition to the Stennis Institute, the training is a collaboration among the Appalachian Regional Commission, Mississippi Development Authority, Mississippi Main Street, and Mississippi Arts Commission. Through the program, local leaders engage in efforts to better their respective towns. Participants typically include elected officials, chamber of commerce representatives, and business and other community leaders interested in maximizing economic development opportunities. Now in its third year, the workshop recently was held at Lake Tiak O’Khata in Louisville. Sessions covered topics such as arts and culture, tourism, marketing and branding, historic preservation, as well as design. Participants also were given opportunities to apply concepts to development plans for a fictitious town called Your Town, Mississippi. Phil Nanney of New Albany, executive director of the Union County Development Association, was among the 2012 participants–in his case, for the second year in a row. Noting that considerable efforts of an economic development association take place “behind the scenes,” he said YourTown has helped equip him with specific strategies. “The main point that stuck with me this year is the significance of properly branding your community,” Nanney said. “We want people to see that our community takes pride in itself–its place, who we are, and what we stand for,” he said. “Our motto is ‘Come see who we are�come find out what’s unique about New Albany.’” Union County already has installed many of the recommendations from expert presenters at the workshop. Even so, the information reinforces ongoing efforts and helps participants communicate with others as they create a vision for development, observed Nanney, one of three from Union County attending this year. Joe Fratesi, the Stennis Institute’s community development director, said participating communities are encouraged to send more than one person. Doing so helps form core groups that can help facilitate planning strategies and communicate with other local leaders about concepts they learned. “The workshop starts off broad, and we discuss a lot of issues we see common to many communities throughout Mississippi,” Fratesi said. “From that discussion, we explore asset- based development, and how a municipality can capitalize on the unique assets of their community. “This year, we spent a lot of time discussing how various topics such as planning, design, historic preservation, arts and culture, and others help communities create a unique sense of place,” he continued. “Tapping into what is unique to a community can really help define how that community is perceived and help encourage economic growth.” For more information about Mississippi State University, see www.msstate.edu.