By CARL SMITH
The Greater Starkville Development Partnership Board of Trustees named Jennifer Gregory as the organization’s new chief executive officer Thursday.
Gregory, the Partnership’s former chief operating officer and vice president for tourism, assumed the new role immediately.
As the organization’s chief executive, Gregory will strategically manage the Partnership and its sub-organizations — the Main Street association and convention and visitors’ bureau — while the group turns its primary focus toward community development initiatives.
Gregory became the GSDP’s de facto leader in March when former CEO Jon Maynard submitted his resignation. Once the county contracted the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK — now rebranded the Golden Triangle Development LINK to represent its tri-county representation — to handle economic development and the LINK hired former Mississippi Development Authority hired Joey Deason to represent the area during industrial attraction, the Partnership realigned itself to focus primarily on community development.
“We think this is the perfect time for focusing on a specific purpose. With Deason’s hire, economic development is covered and there will soon be a strategic plan for economic development in Starkville and Oktibbeha County. We want to work hand-in-hand to make sure our plans and programs are complimentary to what his goals are for economic development,” Gregory said. “It has become increasingly evident that in the world of economic development, the quality of life of a community is at the top of the list for prospective companies and industry. That’s what we define as our mission here at the Partnership — to enhance the quality of life in Starkville.”
As vice president of tourism, Gregory flourished in her role by developing numerous seasonal events and successfully navigating a rebranding campaign designating Starkville as “Mississippi’s College Town.” Not only has New South Weekend events scheduled around major Mississippi State University athletic outings grown in attendance since their inception, but also other Main Street-oriented events — Bulldog Bunch and Browse and Christmas in Starkville — revitalize downtown and put the city on the map as a tourist destination.
State figures show tourism spending in Starkville increased by 8 percent from 2011-2012, Gregory said. When evaluating the past three years, she said, that figure jumps to 33 percent.
Growing interest in Starkville as a tourist destination is also represented in an increase in visits to the city’s primary tourism website, a report revealed earlier this month. A website traffic analysis for http://www.visit.starkville.org  tracked more than 64,000 visits between January 2012 and this year. Comparatively, the site only experienced 19,181 visits between 2011-2012.
GSDP Board President Steve Langston acknowledged Gregory’s success as a community developer and said the Partnership “couldn’t be in a better position” with her at the helm.
“We wanted to give her (the CEO title) on a permanent basis so everyone knows how committed we are to community development,” he said. “She’s earned it through her hard work and many successes.”
“In the year and a half I’ve worked in this office, there have been some wonderful achievements to come out of the Partnership primarily because of Jennifer,” Austin Shafer, GSDP vice president of membership and chamber of commerce, added. “There is a wonderful working atmosphere in the office because her management style is extremely positive. The GSDP board made a very wise decision in naming Jennifer CEO. She is an extremely driven individual and a true asset to the GSDP and our community.”