Author Archives: Colin Krieger

Quick Hits: Good Grub and a Way to Stay Cool

GOLDEN TRIANGLE AREA – Courtesy of the Dispatch Pearl’s Southern Cooking at 7066 Hwy. 45 N. in West Point has formally opened their doors. They offer up tasty soul food and classic Southern favorites, such as biscuits with sausage gravy, ribs, and catfish platters, and more! Tues~Thurs 11-8, Fri 11-9, Sat 7a-9p.

Photo: Fair Treats to Geaux (promo pic from their FB page)

Fair Treats to Geaux, a mobile vendor, is offering up funnel cakes, fried Oreos, and all sorts of other fair fare in Columbus near Gary’s Pawn & Gun on Hwy 45 from Noon to 8pm daily through Sunday July 5th.

Local water park Slip-N-Dip, 312 Lake Lowndes Road in Columbus, is officially open for the season. As with other businesses, they will be enforcing rules for public safety in these unusual times: 100-patron limit, 6-foot distancing, etc. Mon~Sat 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m.

Please check their respective FaceBook pages for updates, menus, directions, and more!

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Hope for the Future at the TTWD Authority

COLUMBUS, MS – Courtesy of the Dispatch

Hope Oakes has been the office manager of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority since August 2019
Photo by Claire Hassler, Dispatch Staff

Veteran reporter and shutterbug Hope Oakes took over as the office manager at the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority (TTWDA) last August, replacing the late Agnes Zaiontz, who had run the place for more than three decades. “Agnes was a definite force of nature and she was one of the grande dames of the industry,” Oakes told the Dispatch. “So I knew I had some awfully, impossibly large shoes to fill. I made the comment that if I could just fill up her toe space I’d be doing alright.” Oakes had previously been the community editor for the Columbus Packet for many years, where you could find her extensive work and gorgeous photos on the front of Section B every week.

The Authority has been around since 1958, since it was set up by the Federal government in order to to help ensure the construction of the waterway. It is a multi-state concern, and these days, it has come into the role of promoting trade more via the waterway.

Zaiontz’ daughter has expressed her support for Oakes: “Mom made a point to introduce me to her and at the museum dedication,” Cindy DeFelice told The Dispatch. “And I know that Mom would be so happy that Hope is filling her shoes…I know that she always spoke so highly of Hope and I know that she’d be very happy.” She went on to say that “[j]ust from the phone conversations and things that we’ve had since my mom passed, I understand now why my mom liked Hope so much and why she thought so highly of her,” DeFelice said. “Because she is such a kind person and she’s very very intelligent.”

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You Win Some, You Lose Some — Businesses in the Area

GOLDEN TRIANGLE REGION, MS – Courtesy of the Dispatch


The former Catfish and Chords building at 2222 Military Road has now completed its transition into a piano bar called “The Burning Piano.” The owners, Ben Sala and Lisa & Stephen Sims, say that the newly-renovated space has been in the works for a long time now, and they’re happy to say that it’s ready for prime time – they offer food, nightly music, and good times. Open daily from 4pm~til (M-Th until 11pm, F-Sat til 1am, Sundays until 10pm). they will also have Happy Hour on weekdays from 4 to 6 pm.

The Competitive Edge, 2322 Hwy. 45 N., is officially open. They offer primarily physical training, but they also offer forms of training that can benefit most anyone. They are offering 20% off of training packages until June 22nd, and facility tours will be available through Saturday from noon to 7pm. Their regular hours will be Mon-Thurs Noon to 6pm for the summer, and by appointment only after that.

On the flip side of the coin, local mainstay Rae’s Jewelry at 110 5th St is closing its doors after 50+ years in business. Owner Pete Creekmore says that the time has simply come for him to retire, something which has been in the works for six months or more: “I’ll miss the people I talk to every day,” Creekmore said in a press release. “We have multiple generations of customers shopping. We know our customers, their children and their grandchildren. …We hold fond memories. This has been a happy business, and we’ve enjoyed being a part of celebrating all those happy occasions.”
They will be holding a clearance sale beginning on June 23, with discounts of up to 70% off until it’s all gone. Tues-Fri 9:30 – 5 and Saturdays until 5:30.

Skate Odyssey in Starkville and Columbus have re-opened, but with precautions in place: 50% of capacity, no groups larger than ten people at a time, and arcade machines will be shut down. They will also be aggressively sanitizing frequented areas. Tues 1-5pm/7-9:30pm, Fri 7-11pm, Sat 2-10pm, Sun 2-5pm


Gordman’s on Hey 12 (the former Goody’s) will be shutting down, as the company has gone into bankruptcy due to COVID-19. A liquidation sale has begun, applicable while stock lasts.
On the upside, MSU’s famous MAFES cheese store has reopened, having been shuttered since March. Go get you some fresh local goodies and support MSU!

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The Hard-Working Folks at Baptist Give Helping Hands a Helping Hand

Courtesy of the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce


Employees of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle recently donated 1,295 non-perishable food items plus $170 to the Helping Hands Food Pantry in Columbus.

The food drive kicked off during National Hospital Week on May 10 and ended May 31 and was one way for employees to repay the community for all of the support the hospital has received during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The generous donations.
Courtesy Photo

Errolyn Gray, director of the Golden Triangle Regional Hub for Volunteers & Nonprofits along with volunteers Cory Adams and Daniel Kure picked up the items on June 3. Helping load were Leon Jackson and Robert Thomaswith Baptist Golden Triangle’s EVS department and Alden McGee, community relations coordinator. The hospital’s donations will help restock shelves at the United Way agency food pantry which has been used extensively by residents affected by the pandemic. Shown on pick-up day with the food items are, left to right, Jackson, Adams, Gray, Kure, Thomas and McGee.
We are so thankful for our amazing hospital employees during this time!


Image: Courtesy photo

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GTR Recovering Slowly But Surely

GOLDEN TRIANGLE REGION, MS – Courtesy of the Dispatch The GTR Airport has been seeing a very gradual increase in passenger traffic — from 5~7 passengers daily a couple of weeks ago to 12~15 today. However, their primary client base — business travelers — has yet to begin using their services in earnest thus far. Prior to the pandemic, the airport normally saw over 175 passengers every day.
Executive Director Mike Hainsey said that “The passengers we’re seeing are ones that have to fly to see family,” Hainsey said. “The business community is not traveling yet.” Spring Break was the last time they saw normal flyer numbers. However, they have retained business from a local flight school, a crop-dusting service, medical helicopters, and military training flights. Robin Wynn of Avis/Budget at GTR, mentioned that biweekly rentals got back up to 39 (from 11 prior) for Memorial Day, but that this is still well short of normal.
Hainsey went on to say that GTR has received about $1.2 million in funding via the CARES Act, and that they may receive another $190K from the Federal Government. This would still represent a loss of $300-400K, but it helps to delay the point at which they would have to dip into their reserves just to continue functioning: “Since it is going to take a while to recover, it’ll allow us to still stay in good financial position,” he said. Because of this, they have been able to avoid cutting any staff.

GTR Airport nearly empty
Photo by Theo DeRosa – Dispatch Staff

That being said, they are still careful to maintain sanitization and distancing protocols throughout their facilities, and passengers have noted that many fellow flyers are wearing masks both on and off the planes. “We’ll take the measures required and make sure both the people that travel and also our employees, the people that are working there, are protected and taken care of, too,” Hainsey said.

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Award-Winning Louisiana Sports Bar Seeks to Expand into the Golden Triangle

GOLDEN TRIANGLE REGION, MS – COurtesy of the Daily Journal

Baton Rouge based Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, with over a hundred locations currently under development, is working on expanding their presence in Mississippi, including at least one franchise location in Starkville. The company, which has been around since 2003, was founded by Brandon Landry and Jack Warner, both of LSU. The New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees has since become as o-owner of the chain. In 2012, ESPN named the venue the “No. 1 Sports Bar in America.”

Walk-On’s says it offers “authentic, mouthwatering Louisiana cuisine prepared fresh in a from-scratch kitchen. That includes seafood, traditional Cajun cuisine and burgers built for two hands.” They also offer po-boys, gumbo, soup, wraps, tacos, desserts, beer, and other alcoholic beverages.

No definitive opening date has yet been set.

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Get you some Tex-Mex, Do a Workout, and then Sleep it Off in Comfort

GOLDEN TRIANGLE REGION, MS – Courtesy of the Dispatch


According to records at the Sec of State’s Office, a new venue will be coming to the former La Fiesta building on Hwy 45. Jalisco Mexican Grill is believed to be the incoming tenant there, and there has been a fair amount of renovation going on there recently.

Also in Columbus, Firehouse Subs (next to C*Spire) on 45 is planning to open up in June. They will be offering takeout and delivery services, and operating at 50% capacity, like other restaurants. They also plan to offer a “Family Meal Deal” featuring three of their more popular subs once they do open.


The Magnolia Tree Bed & Breakfast on South Montgomery near Poor House Road is now accepting reservations, as is the Pool House, nearby. The B&B will offer a small-towm, comfy vibe while still allowing easy access to all a college town has to offer. Reservations for both venues, as well as more info on the complex itself, can be found at:

A new gym has opened at 329 Hwy. 12, at Middleton Court. Thomas Berkery is the owner of The Gym: “We’re just trying to get a footprint out there,” Berkery said. “We’re letting people walk around and see the facilities. . . I just wanted to open a hometown, local gym,” Berkery said. “We’re trying to get that good atmosphere of family and friends working out and staying fit together.”

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Restaurants Slowly Ramping Up After Statewide Re-opening Allowed

GOLDEN TRIANGLE REGION, MS – Courtesy of the Dispatch

On Thursday, Restaurants in Mississippi were allowed to re-open their dining rooms (at half capacity) for the first time since Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statewide order limiting their service options back on April 3. While this has brought some relief to store owners — 2/3 or more of many venues’ proceeds normally come from inside dining — customers have not yet been returning en masse.


“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Mark Welch, owner of 1883 Steakhouse on Highway 12 in Starkville.

Starkville Police Cpl Garrett Mittan, center, accepts a to-go box of catfish, hushpuppies, fries and coleslaw from Starkville Cafe employee Gentry Wilson, left, Thursday on Main Street –
Photo by Tess Virbin, Dispatch Staff

“It’s pretty quiet so far,” said a restaurant manager just down the road at Newk’s Eatery.

A notable exception has been Starkville Cafe on Main Street, which was packed, in part because this was also the day he held a big food giveaway to any first responders who showed up at his restaurant. “It was just a coincidence that it happened on the same day,” owner John Peeples said. “But Main Street has been so slow and quiet these past six or seven weeks, we just felt like we should do something. I think everybody needed a little lift.” Clark Beverages provides a tent and free sodas. He went on to say that he gave away more food than he sold, but that it was absolutely worth it: “I had a customer tell me, ‘You know, this is the first time I’ve felt normal in weeks,'” Peeples said. “I think that’s something everybody needs now.”


Restauranteurs in Columbus, however, are taking a more cautious approach. Most are waiting until next week, as the waters get tested.

“The safety of our customers and employees has been the basis of our decisions,” Zachary’s owner Pellum said. “Georgia and Florida opened their dining rooms two weeks ago. I want to see what the numbers look like over the weekend to see if there’s a spike in (coronavirus) cases. I’ll be looking at the Mississippi cases over the weekend, too. The bottom line is that we won’t open until we can be sure our employees and customers are safe.”

Steve Pyle, co-owner of Cafe on Main, said that “The governor is going to have another update on his order on Monday, so we decided to wait to see what he has to say then . . . If the cases should spike, he might change the rules again. The one thing we didn’t want to do is open up then have to shut down again.”

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Golden Triangle Region, MS – Courtesy of EMCC

May 5, 2020

A variety of Occupational Safety and Health Administration training courses will soon be offered at East Mississippi Community College’s Communiversity, which will serve as a Host Training Organization for Eastern Kentucky University’s OSHA Training Institute Education Center in Richmond, Kentucky.

Tentative plans are to begin offering the courses at the Communiversity in July.

“This is a service that will benefit not only our local businesses and industries, but our state and region as well,” EMCC Communiversity Executive Director Dr. Courtney Taylor said. “This agreement will expand our current offerings and make it much more convenient for many in our area and beyond who are in need of OSHA training.”

The OSHA Training Institute Education Center (OTIEC) at Eastern Kentucky University is one of 26 centers comprising a national network of non-profit organizations authorized by OSHA to deliver occupational safety and health training to public and private sector workers, supervisors, and employers.

“Eastern Kentucky University is delighted to collaborate with East Mississippi Community College to expand our OSHA training,” EKU Assistant Vice President University Outreach and Engagement Jill Price said. “We are eager to realize the additional safety training opportunities the relationship will bring to OSHA Region IV, enabling increased potential to educate, protect and prepare American workers for the hazards they may encounter in the workplace. This partnership is another example that EKU truly strives to meet the training and educational needs of students everywhere.” 

Courses available through EKU OTIEC provide certification and specific training in construction, healthcare, manufacturing and hospitality OSHA requirements. Technical courses on high hazards, occupational safety and environmental compliance topics offer training in the latest health and safety standards.

OSHA numbered courses provide certification and specific training in construction, healthcare, and general industry OSHA standards. Trainer courses provide authorization to teach OSHA 10 and 30 hour Outreach classes.  Elective topic courses provide students with an expanded overview of specific safety issues and standards. 

Students may register for the OSHA courses now at . Classes are anticipated to begin July 1.  Course offerings are subject to change due to Covid-19 social distancing guidelines.

EMCC will continue to provide separate OSHA training through the college’s Workforce and Community Services Division that meets local industry needs and complements available course offerings.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for OSHA training is great, with more than 305,000 participants trained through the education centers between fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2013. The closest OTIEC to the Golden Triangle is located at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Established in 2003, Eastern Kentucky University’s OSHA Training Institute Education Center serves the eight-state Region IV comprised of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

A course listing can be found here:

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The Big Virus Hitting Big Business Locally

A local manufacturing plant has had to close its doors due to COVID-19. There is currently no word on when or if they will be re-opening. On the upside, The GTR LINK and EMCC are currently implementing plans to get the impacted workers retrained and re-assigned as needed in new jobs and even, if need be, in new professions, with the skills needed to thrive in them.

Article courtesy of The Dispatch and the GTR LINK


Local business voices: Two steps forward by Macaulay Whitaker, GTR LINK

You’ve heard the saying, “two steps forward, one step back.” In economic development, this is particularly true.

(Spoiler alert. There will be no rainbows and sunshine today. No Googling necessary.)

Macaulay Whitaker – COO of GTR LINK – Courtesy Photo

We received word Tuesday that a longtime plant in our region is closing. Indefinitely with no current plans for reopening.

This is the first manufacturer in the Golden Triangle that has been taken down, in part, by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a very real possibility that it will not be the last.

Every single employer in the nation is currently faced with challenges no one saw coming.

Hard times call for hard decisions.

The physical, emotional and economic strain that currently faces our world is beyond a magnitude that many of us can imagine.

This week, we continued our work with Golden Triangle cities and counties, attempting to make plans and solve problems surrounding taxes, operations and how to proceed in the near and far future.

We’re watching in real-time our government, at local, state and federal levels, confront no-win situations daily and make difficult calls. Furloughs, lay-offs and closures. Permanent or not, each decision has a trickle-down effect that affects a lot more than just the parties directly involved.

Early on in our series for the paper, we talked about how sales taxes are connected to our everyday lives and why shopping locally can buoy necessary services in times like these. The operation of our cities relies heavily on sales taxes, but ad valorem taxes and special use taxes could also be negatively affected by this crisis.

TIF (tax increment financing) bonds that are used to attract developers in the retail and hotel sector are paid through sales tax revenue. Columbus, Starkville and West Point all have TIF bonds for various projects and these cities likely won’t be able to make bond payments. It’s also likely that local banks hold those bonds, and now will need to work with our cities to restructure that debt.

Special use taxes like the one-percent parks and recreation tax in Starkville to fund a $20 million park project will be severely decreased, putting a pause on those improvements while the city triages its needs.

The Columbus-Lowndes Community Development Tax is a 2 percent on the gross sales of restaurants in the City of Columbus, and it funds economic development, recreation and tourism activities for Lowndes County, the City of Columbus, the CCVB and the Golden Triangle Development LINK. With lower tax projections, this could result in a massive loss of revenue for each of these entities. It will be particularly problematic for the CCVB which relies on this tax as their sole source of funding and the distribution of this tax is prescribed by law.

Businesses, governments and organizations are looking at current and future budgets and making decisions to survive.

Hard times call for hard decisions.

We reiterated last week our intent to be a signal for the Golden Triangle.

Consider this a warning shot. Very hard times are coming, and they’ll leave a mark. They will not, however, be forever. The same day we heard about that plant closing, we notified our partners and East Mississippi Community College initiated plans for a rapid response program to train and upskill those employees for better careers. We saw three employers open their plants back up Monday, with plans to bring their entire workforce back to work safely in the coming months, if business allows. We received a call from a mother looking to find her son training for a job building helicopters because, “he’s home and he needs to get to work.” A local restaurant in Columbus announced a grand re-opening, the third one in the past two years because you just can’t keep great people down. Hard times call for hard decisions. Out of those decisions, our communities can re-emerge leaner, focused and ready to move into the future that this pandemic has opened up to us.

Whitaker is the COO of the GTR LINK, the primary economic development organization in the region.

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