Mapping highlights assets of Cleveland
by Rory Doyle
May 16, 2013 | 1939 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bolivar County Administrator Will Hooker (left) discusses economic development Wednesday with Brandi Hough and Joy Foy of the Asset Mapping Development Group at the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce.
Bolivar County Administrator Will Hooker (left) discusses economic development Wednesday with Brandi Hough and Joy Foy of the Asset Mapping Development Group at the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce.
slideshow
The Asset Mapping Development Group of the Mississippi Development Authority gathered at the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday to report its findings from a January visit to Cleveland.

The group travels throughout the state to map and document non-traditional economic advancement opportunities unique to Mississippi communities.

The identified points of interest are pinpointed on a GPS interactive map available for public guidance at www.assetmap.mississippi.org.

The mapping process focuses on six categories: business/commerce; history/culture; city/infrastructure; parks/recreation; art/music/dance/performance; and service oriented organizations.

The purpose of Wednesday's meeting was to summarize findings and provide suggestions on how local assets could be improved for economic development.

Director Joy Foy and project manager Brandi Hough spoke to the crowd of community leaders and praised Cleveland for its large number of assets.

"When our team got back together after mapping Cleveland, we all said how much we enjoyed it here," said Foy."You all have more resources than most communities."

"We're focusing on things that are unique to the community and things that will draw people to Cleveland," said Hough.

The duo offered a number of proposals and both agreed "big picture" development would come from an effort to brand Cleveland in a particular light.

Foy asked the crowd if there was any harm in marketing the town more closely with Delta State University — so when people think of Cleveland they immediately think of the university.

"If you brand yourself, as a town, with Delta State, than all the other assets are gravy," said Foy.

"It's not just what Cleveland can do for campus, but also what Delta State can do for Cleveland," she added. "It goes both ways."

Branding would take place through a number of methods, including signage, social media platforms and surveys.

Foy encouraged incorporating the Fighting Okra mascot throughout town so the popular figure becomes synonymous with Cleveland.

Foy also suggested marketing the Cleveland/DSU relationship throughout the state, keeping people beyond the Delta informed of local success.

Dr. Myrtis Tabb, associate vice president at DSU, played a leading role when the crew first came to canvass Cleveland.

"I think it's important to think in terms of what we can do better," said Tabb. "It's always good for us to be willing to pull things together and be cohesive."

Tabb was very supportive of the idea to link with the International Town-Gown Association to further enhance the DSU/Cleveland connection.

A number of other ideas were shared at the forum, including expanding the local art scene through commercial galleries, documenting and sharing the oral histories of older citizens, increasing the local Blues music scene and building on the success Tricia Walker has directed at the Delta Music Institute.

"People want to see, touch, taste and hear what makes this area special," said Hough.

Discussion highlighted beautifying the U.S. Highway 61 corridor in Cleveland and finding ways to draw traffic onto Miss. Highway 8 to pass through the historic downtown area.

Foy suggested making these changes as soon as possible to be ready for increased traffic when GRAMMY® Museum Mississippi opens on the campus of Delta State in 2015.

Adding bike lanes, crosswalks and sidewalks will be a crucial step in the movement.

The final suggestion from Foy and Hough was to market the quality of life that is unique to small-town Cleveland, citing first-class parks, facilities and shopping.

"One goal is to have Cleveland be the most visited city in Mississippi or the Delta," said Hough, after referencing Cleveland's No. 2 ranking in the Smithsonian Magazine's list of "The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2013."

Judson Thigpen, chamber executive vice president, was impressed with the lengthy list of recommendations and said now is the time to determine a master plan for future endeavors.

"It's about putting things into action and narrowing down our focus," said Thigpen. "The community is going to do well if Delta State University does well. The focus needs to be narrowed somewhat."

Thigpen said he would meet with Tabb next week and begin a plan for action.