By STEVEN NALLEY
The Greater Starkville Development Partnership is preparing to approach the city of Starkville with a finalized report on a possible way-finding signage system within the next two weeks.
At Friday’s meeting of the GSDP board, Jennifer Gregory, GSDP vice president and chief operating officer, said the GSDP has discussed way-finding signage for nearly a year. She said the proposal calls for the city to install black wrought-iron signs which point visitors toward such locations as downtown Starkville, Mississippi State University, public parking lots and the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum.
“With help from our consultant that we hired through the charrette ... we’ll have a really nice presentation with a map that shows exactly where these signs will be,” Gregory said. “I really think you’re going to like them. We ... are one of very few communities in the state that are looking at a way-finding signage system. When we approached MDOT, they said, ‘Well, we really don’t know what to tell you because nobody’s doing this in Mississippi.’”
Tommy Tomlinson, president of Renasant’s Starkville Division, announced the location of a permanent facility for Starkville operations at the meeting. Renasant currently has two temporary locations at the Thad Cochran Research Park and College Park on Russell Street, but he said a new, permanent stand-alone building is planned for the former location of Slaughter Chevrolet on South Montgomery Street.
“Our plans are to begin construction on our main office facility, with some dirt probably moved at the first of March,” Tomlinson said. “Engineers are completing their work; we’ll have the plans to the city for them to look at hopefully February. I hope the community will be proud of the facility we’re building.”
Jon Maynard, GSDP president, said Chairman Steve Langston requested a summary of the GSDP’s current vision at the meeting. Maynard said the goal is for Starkville to represent the “New South,” specializing in technological careers and industries.
“We’ve been graduating engineers, biomedical folks, all sorts of specialized fields from Mississippi State for decades,” Maynard said. We’re employing in this area just 6 percent of those graduates. Retaining 50 percent of our graduates translates into an additional 15,000 residents over 10 years. If we can bring back those folks, we will have significant increases in not only our numbers but our income levels.”
Both II-VI and Semi-South specialize in silicon carbide, Maynard said, which will be used in several next-generation electronics. If both companies continue to expand, Maynard said, they could become industry leaders, carrying Starkville to the forefront of global technology with them.
“These two companies alone can help us recruit and change what we are in Starkville,” Maynard said. “We can become the Silicon Carbide Valley. We can become the future of what electronics can be.”
Gregory said she has been invited to speak on the GSDP’s marketing and branding strategies at two conferences: the Back Stage Pass Festival and Events Coordinators Conference in Bay St. Louis next week and the Your Town Mississippi Conference in Louisville this summer.
“To me, it’s just our job, what we need to be doing, but we really do have an aggressive campaign, and we’re doing things to promote our community that other communities and Main Streets and CVBs aren’t really doing in their areas,” Gregory said. “I’m really excited that we’re leading the charge on that whole thing in the state.”
Gregory said the GSDP also plans to educate the public about downtown public parking and encourage retailers to have employees park in other locations to open the public parking up.
“This whole way-finding signage system, I think, will help to direct people to public parking areas, and we’re exploring the possibility of public private partnerships with private property owners that have parking lots in the downtown area that aren’t in use on nights or weekends,” Gregory said. “(We’re) trying to explore the possibility of some agreements for use of those lots during events, during game days.”
Finally, Austin Shafer, GSDP vice president of membership and the chamber of commerce, said Dillards in Meridian plans to stage the “pop-up store” once planned for Christmas on Super Bulldog Weekend in April. Shafer said he is also working with MSU to get the Chick-fil-A Leadercast broadcast in Starkville. Filmed live in Atlanta, Ga., the Leadercast features such luminaries as Soledad O’Brien, Marcus Buckingham, Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer.