250 members of the Hancock Chamber met Friday at Diamondhead Country Club for the Annual Meeting to discuss issues facing businesses and set priorities for 2018. Cathy Wilson passed the gavel to Stephen Schruff, Area Manager of Mississippi Power Company, as President of the Board.
“Over the past year, Stephen has served on the Chamber executive committee and led the small business economic development program,” said Wilson. “He brings with him a breadth of experience from across the Coast.”
During the meeting, Schruff led a discussion on issues facing businesses in the community.
“We analyzed city sales tax diversions, ad valorem tax revenue, gaming revenue and unemployment rates countywide. The bottom line here is revenue across the board is flat, and we need to plan for growth to increase residential and commercial investments.”
To address this, Schruff and Tish Williams, executive director of the Chamber, provided a report on the proposed small business economic development action plan the Chamber devised to recruit, retain and expand businesses to increase tax revenues.
“Some cities across the Coast are actually investing as much as $400,000 in economic development programs,” said Williams. “Our cities don’t have a staff nor have they allocated budgets to support a professionally run economic development program. The Chamber has a team and system in place to be a tremendous resource to the cities.”
Williams said if the cities want to plan for growth, leaders must look beyond tourism to diversify the economy and the business community wants to help the cities find the solutions. The following strategies were offered as recommendations:
- Utilize the professional staff and volunteers of the Chamber to serve as the economic development resource for the cities to recruit, retain and expand businesses;
- Develop a strategic action plan for each city to define a vision, goals and objectives;
- Look for policies and zoning that are obstacles for the small business sector and residential developments and make changes to spur investments;
- Identify resources to implement the plan and methods to measure the results;
- Approve and market residential and commercial incentives that the state statutes allow to improve regional competitiveness (Waveland and Hancock County have adopted a commercial incentive package);
- Utilize the Foundation as a funding conduit to secure economic development grants without the administrative overhead costs of establishing a separate non-profit; and,
- Participate in candid community conversations about planned growth. (For a complete calendar of meetings and events, go to www.hancockchamber.org.)
In a discussion about the future of tourism, Nikki Moon provided an overview of the Hancock County Tourism Commission and Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Tri-County Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. She cited accomplishments of the local tourism commission which includes managing the Bay St. Louis Visitor Center, securing marketing grants, sponsoring events and generating publicity. Moon said that through the regional tourism marketing effort, Hancock County has been part of a $3 million sales, marketing and public relations program. The Hancock County bed tax generates around $130,000 annually. Williams encouraged members to reach out to elected officials to let their voice be heard about the future of tourism, which is being addressed now.
Moon introduced the Chamber’s 2018 tourism initiatives:
- Secure funding for a site specific feasibility study to advocate for an increase in the number of quality hotel rooms in Hancock County;
- Work with the Department of Marine Resources to acquire certification for nature based tourism businesses to help them obtain grants and marketing resources; and,
- Continue working with the City of Diamondhead to establish a visitor and relocation center to drive a percentage of the 37,000 cars off Interstate 10 daily.
Cathy Wilson reported that during 2017, the Chamber secured $50,000 in new grants to market Hancock County, including Highway 90 directional signage with other grants to the Hancock Tourism Commission, the Hancock Community Development Foundation, the Old Town Merchants Association and the Hancock County Historic Society; raised $6,000 for classroom grants and high school senior scholarships; cut the ribbon on 20 new businesses throughout Hancock County; managed relocation inquiries from 13 states; provided member businesses with 847,632 website referrals with attorneys, restaurants, real estate professionals and banks topping the list; and, rolled out a new networking group—the Hancock Young Professionals.
The Chairman of the Hancock Community Development Foundation, Leslie Henderson, reported that during 2017 the board completed the allocation of all of the Job Generation loan funds with Dan B’s Restaurant as the final project. And, Dr. Cherie Labat announced that the Foundation Board is launching a new fundraiser: Cuz’s for the Cause on Thursday, March 1 from 6-9pm at Cuz Old Town Oyster Bar and Restaurant to celebrate 23 community causes the Foundation supports. $25 tickets can be obtained at www.hancockchamber.org.
Sponsors of the meeting include: Hancock Bank, Mississippi Power Company, Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast, Coast Electric Power Association, American Medical Response, The Silver Slipper Casino and Hotel, The Peoples Bank and WAV Productions.