Category Archives: Uncategorized

Revived 2-percent Food and Drink Tax Intended to Promote Tourism, Development, and More

COLUMBUS/LOWNDES – Courtesy of The Dispatch

As Lowndes County’s somewhat controversial 30-year-old restaurant sales tax expired back in June, a replacement tax has been proposed which seems to have near-universal support in the Legislature. Should it be approved, this previously-expired tax will bring back the 2% restaurant tax for the area. Note that this would only affect Columbus eateries whose total food & beverage sales exceed $100 thousand per year.

$400K of the expected revenue has been earmarked for the City, another $300K has been reserved for the County for use in “tourism, special events, recreation and entertainment,” and a further $250K for the GTR LINK’s economic development services. The remainder will go to the CVB.

Gary Chism (left) and Jeff Smith

“When it gets down here, it may very well have a direct referendum added (which would require a citizen vote before the tax could be enacted),” said Rep. Gary Chism (R-Lowndes County), who serves on the House Local and Private Committee that handles such sales tax legislation. “This is the way I drafted the bill because that is what the city and county wanted (in their resolutions), and I support it.”

Mayor Robert Smith reports that the City intends to use its share of the projected revenues to help pay for an estimated $1.6 million in ball field improvements at Propst Park, as well as building the second phase of the Sen. Terry Brown Amphitheater at The Island.

Supervisors’ President Harry Sanders stated that the County is considering using its share to make a “regional” sports complex.

Kudos to the Dispatch for staying on top of this!

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You May Soon Be Able to Get Broadband Internet from Your Power Co-op

GOLDEN TRIANGLE – Courtesy of the Dispatch

Counties statewide — including Lowndes and Oktibbeha — have been signing resolutions en masse that support the idea of allowing (not requiring) local electric co-ops to provide broadband internet service to their customers, an idea which has been gaining significant traction over the past 20+ years. They are doing so in order to try and persuade the state legislature to change an old law mandating that rural co-ops provide electricity and nothing else.

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, is a major force in favor of this idea: “Electric cooperatives bringing broadband service is happening in 107 cooperatives around the country and in every state bordering Mississippi, but it’s not happening here,” Presley said.

Presley also said that, as of this writing, 27 counties and 57 cities across Mississippi have passed resolutions in favor of this change to the law. The Mississippi Farm Bureau, the Mississippi Association of Realtors and the American Association of Retired Persons have given their support, as well.

Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders

“It’s gone from being a luxury to a necessity,” Presley said. “There’s no way for rural people to be able to participate in the modern economy without being connected to the internet. I believe every Mississippian should have access to internet service.” He also stated that this could be done with no cost to the state, as the physical infrastucture is already in place.

Harry Sanders, president of the Lowndes County Board of supervisors, said, “The main reason we did that is so there can be internet service to rural areas of the county…The utilities already have the poles and everything already there and it’s the easiest way to provide internet to rural areas.”

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More and More Historic MS Businesses Getting Restored and Revitalized

TUPELO/GOLDEN TRIANGLE – Courtesy of the Daily Journal

A growing number of Northeast Mississippi entrepreneurs are investing money into restoring historic properties for commercial use, helping to turn old structures into viable businesses. The amounts spent on projects such as these have kept going up (and up and up!) over the past decade or so. thanks to tax incentives offered to those who wish to put in the work.

Columbus Developer Chris Chain has been a pioneer in this space over the past three decades, renovating 150 structures across the state in that time: “You are always going to have people interested in living downtown, so it kind of gives you a niche in the market for living space,” Chain said. “It’s hard work but it gives you a lot of pride when you can rebuild something and recapture that heritage, when you walk into these apartments they are going to have high ceilings, skylights, hard flooring; beautiful features that you just cannot get anymore . . . You can’t rebuild these back the way they were, it’s just too expensive, so restoration is the way to do it,” he went on to say.

According to data supplied by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 94 percent of the state historic tax credit funding from 2006 onwards have been utilized for commercial projects like these, indicating the popularity of the tax and the eagerness of developers to restore these buildings. Roughly half of all such renovation projects are used for commercial purposes, with others focused on residences and the like.

Chain noted that developers interested in historic renovation have access to other incentives as well, such as those offered by energy companies. For instance, he saved 25 percent on the lighting for a project via one such program.

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Godfather’s is Coming to Town

GOLDEN TRIANGLE– Courtesy of the Dispatch

STARKVILLE

Pizza and buffet chain Godfather’s Pizza is opening a local store in Midtown at 301 University Drive, Suite 2. They plan to open their doors sometime this spring. The chain has been in business since 1978, and currently has more than 600 locations in 40 states. More options for tasty food in this burgeoning town are always good to have!

Starkville’s Cadence Bank main branch building, located at 301 E. Main St., is back on the market. The Board of Aldermen considered buying the property in 2014, but the project was eventually voted down. The 30 thousand sq ft building is currently listed at $2.5 million.

Ceco Building Systems, which makes materials needs to construct pre-fab homes, will be moving to a new location a few blocks down Hwy 45 N, according to Human Resources Director Tim Lamm.  

Nails and Spa, located at 1726 Hwy 45, has put up an “opening soon” sign, but no date has yet been announced. The nail salon will be open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.  

COLUMBUS

K-Mart has officially closed its doors here as of late November. Future plans for the retail space, if any, have not yet been announced.

Penny Ridge Grocery, located at 2003 Ridge Road between Caledonia and Columbus, is on the market. Owners Deanna Jordan and John Wooten have said that they are in the process of finding a buyer, but that they would close for business by the end of the week.

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New Place for Some Good Chow in Columbus

COLUMBUS – Courtesy of The Dispatch

The former location of Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Columbus, at 301 Tuscaloosa Road, is under new ownership. Joyce Alexander, with over 30 years of restaurant experience, has just opened Joyce’s Country Kitchen in that building. It will be open for a country-style breakfast and a lunch buffet on weekdays, and a breakfast buffet on Saturday mornings.

Monograms Plus on Hwy 45 N has begun its moving sale in preparation for them to do just that; the sale will last for the next two weeks or so. The company will be transitioning to a purely online business model.

“We’re excited about this transition and this new phase in the journey,” Gable said. “We hope these last few weeks will be enjoyable for our staff and our customers as the holidays are approaching, and everyone is in the mood for shopping and finding the perfect gift.”  

Everything must go, including the fixtures, so head on down to  Monogramming Plus for some great deals! They’ll be open open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.  

WEST POINT

Onin Staffing recently opened its doors to help workers find jobs. They’re located at 6683 Highway 45 Alt. S., and they’ll be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 

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New President at EMCC

GOLDEN TRIANGLE – Courtesy of The Dispatch

East Mississippi Community College has announced that it will be bringing in a new president early in 2019. The newest officeholder is to be Scott Alsobrooks, vice president of economic and community development at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville. His predecessor at EMCC, Thomas Huebner, resigned his position in May.

Incoming EMCC President Scott Alsobrooks

“We were methodical and tried to do everything we could to get a great pool of candidates,” EMCC Board Chairman Moore said. “I think we accomplished that feat. Now we have, what I perceive is, the right man for the job. We felt like he was the best candidate of those that we interviewed to serve as our next executive leader as president.”

“He has approximately three decades of experience, some in industry and some in the community college environment,” Moore said. “He’s knowledgeable of all aspects of a Mississippi community college. He’s an excellent communicator, a documented innovator and he’s not afraid of any challenges. I think he will be a great leader for our institution moving forward.”

“I’ve watched what’s been going on in the Golden Triangle,” Alsobrooks said. “The (manufacturing) renaissance that you have is just really amazing. When I was a student in the ’80s, between Starkville and Columbus, it was just cow pastures. Now, you drive through there and you’ve got all these big manufacturing plants and they’re making helicopters and engines and just all kinds of advanced things. I’m excited about coming up here and being a part of that and helping students be successful.” “The Communiversity is going to be a huge asset in the community,” he went on to say. “I’m excited about … getting to work.

“I look forward to showing the opportunities to people and letting them know what we have available at East Mississippi.”

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Local Businesses Stand Out During Holiday Season

The Purple Elephant employees Dixie Belue and Sherri Dyer decorate a Christmas tree with handmade ornaments Monday afternoon- Photo by Mary Politz, Dispatch Staff

COLUMBUS & STARKVILLE – Courtesy of the Dispatch

Many local stores have been doing gangbusters as the holiday season roars into full swing, thanks to the special services they provide and the superior customer service they offer – And THAT’S Good for Business!

Sarah Barefield, manager at The Purple Elephant on Wilkins Wise Road in COlumbus, reports that their customers come for the great pottery items from Mississippi crafters, and leave delighted by the staff’s impressive skill at gift-wrapping.

“We do a great job gift wrapping,” Barefield said. “A lot of people come and shop just for our gift-wrapping. We also just try to be as nice as possible. . .  It was just better this year. We were very happy with the customers that came in, and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.” 

Gloria Herriott, owner of Hollyhocks in Downtown Columbus, credits the strong economy:  “Small businesses know when it’s real. We’re off to a really good Christmas season. People have more money to spend and they feel comfortable spending it.” 

Main Street Director Barbara Bigelow  had this to say: “I’ve had great responses from our merchants from both days — Black Friday and Shop Small Saturday . . . We certainly appreciate people supporting them. It’s so good for our economy. Everything we spend with our local merchants, of course, stays in our community and it feeds our economy. That’s always good for the community. It’s just important to keep your money local.”  

In Starkville, George Sherman’s clothing store on Russell Street did well, despite the Egg Bowl being in Oxford this year. His Black Friday sales were such a success that he will be extending them through the end of the month of Novermber.

“We specialize in service. We really talk to our customers and find out what their needs are and meet those needs,” Sherman said. “We were pleasantly surprised. . . Shop local, because those dollars turn back to the community.”

The Lodge, an apparel store, fell a bit short of expectations, but they still did quite well for themselves. Owner John Hendricks said, “You just can’t beat that football traffic.” he went on to say that customers still poured in to purchase Egg Bowl victory t-shirts and cowbells for the holiday season.  

“We’re very excited about the holiday season,” Hendricks said. “We always hope (people) shop locally because it affects local people.”

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4-County Electric Welcomes its New CEO

GTR Region – Courtesy of The Dispatch

Incoming 4-County Chief Executive Officer Brian Clark works at his desk Wednesday – Clark will replace Joe Cade, who plans to retire at the end of the month, as CEO and general manager Oct 1 – Photo by Isabelle Altman, Dispatch Staff

4-County Electric Power Association’s Asst General Manager Brian Clark has been named the non-profit cooperative’s new CEO in a recent press release; he will take over for outgoing CEO Joe Cade, who will retire at the end of the month. Clark first joined the company as a staff accountant about thirteen years ago, and worked his way up the corporate ladder to CFO in 2013m and then AGM in February.

Cade, who took over as CEO in 2010, is credited with working closely with the GTR LINK to help bring big businesses such as Yokohama to the area, as well as improving efficiency, work safety, and community engagement in the nine counties they serve. Clark means to continue and improve upon those successes: “I think 4-County’s in a great place,” Clark said. “I know that’s easy to say, but Mr. Joe and the board, they really have done the right things at the right time, which makes my job easy coming in. But it’s kind of like being a pristine athlete at a pro level. You have to work hard at staying in physical shape, so we have to work hard at maintaining what they’ve already built for us.”

Clark also serves as the LCSD board of trustees’ President, having been a member since 2010. Superintendent Lynn Wright speaks highly of him:  “He’s willing to ask good, tough questions and he expects solid answers,” Wright said.

“He’s well-educated, he knows what he’s doing and he’s been real good in his jobs here so I don’t have any doubts about him,” Outgoing CEO Cade said. “I think he’ll do a really good job. . . I’ve had over 25 years of good relationships with everyone I’ve worked with and I know Brian has got the personality to do very well,” he added. “He’s a rock-solid good Christian man.”

 

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New Construction Abounds Along South Frontage Road

New Construction Abounds Along South Frontage Road

GOLDEN TRIANGLE – Courtesy of The Dispatch

The next time you’re taking a trip from Columbus to Starkville (or realms beyond), keep a weather eye out for the service road to your left. A number of construction projects, new and old, are cropping up there like flowers in Springtime.

1521 S. Frontage Road, just past the Macon/Meridian exit, will house the new combined West Point-Starkville-Columbus office location for Atmos Energy, which will replace their existing offices in those areas once it opens its doors (scheduled for this September); existing employees will be shifted to the new office.

Kingdom Vision International Church is working on adding to its new building at 2467 S. Frontage Road. They hope to open up the new multi-purpose center and gymnasium in late 2019.

Exceed Technologies and Mississippi Alarm arecurrently building new structures at 2787 S. Frontage Road, and they hope to move in by mid-October.

A bit further on, nearer the GTR Airport exit, Stribling Equipment is building their own new facility. They sell heavy equipment, and have found the need for a more centalized, larger location in order to better serve their customers. They hope to complete the move by January.

Sunbelt Rentals opened its Columbus location 645 Highway 45 S., this past June. It offers rental construction equipment for everyone from large contractors to individual homeowners who need some special tools for their favorite project.

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Restaurant Tax’s Future Up In Air

Restaurant Tax’s Future Up In Air

Columbus – Courtesy of The Dispatch

Robert Smith and Harry Sanders – Courtesy photo

The fate of the joint Lowndes/Columbus 2% restaurant tax is currently being hotly debated, as it is due to expire at the end of June. It normally brings in about $2 million per year in tax revenue from restaurants that make over $325,000 per year in prepared food and beverage sales. One of the primary issues that caused the tax’s renewal to die in committee a few weeks ago was the debate over whether the $325K floor should be in there at all; without it, all restaurants would be assessed the tax; another is whether the city of Columbus should simply go ahead and assess its own version of the tax, should the State fail to reinstate it sometime soon. The tax revenue goes primarily to fund tourism, parks and economic development.

“My thing is that if our legislators aren’t going to take out the ($325,000) floor, we’d be crazy to send anything down there that says otherwise,” Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said. “Two-million dollars is at stake here. That’s what we have to remember. So if the only way to get this tax back in place is to have the floor, that’s what we would have to do. If that means the county isn’t a part of it, that’s their decision.”

Should the city move forward with its own tax, it may mean changing how the existing Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau’s is funded; the new tax, in this case, would provide said funding in lieu of the old one. Mayor Smith remarked that “[W]ith [CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter’s] contacts and experience, we’d be foolish not to use that. . . We’d have to do something about the board because if it were to be city only, we’d need a board with [only] city people on it. But as far as running tourism, I still think the CVB is the best way to do it.”

The county, in contrast, wants to remove the “floor” on the tax, but keep it the way it was – a joint county/city tax. Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders said, “The county has as much interest in tourism as anybody. . . We want to keep it exactly as it is, with the tax in place like it’s always been. … The only difference is taking away the floor because having that floor doesn’t make any sense. That’s been our position all along and I don’t see any reason why it would change.”

As it stands, if the tax is allowed to die later this year, any reinstatements or changes will have to wait until the Legislature reconvenes next January; this would mean losing out on a year or more of tax revenue. While it is theoretically possible to get a short-term, one-year version of the tax added to an upcoming State special session, it seems that it is unlikely that a local tax would be able to get onto the agenda at such a meeting.

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Please click here for a Dispatch editorial on this topic.

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