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After the pandemic upended travel and tourism across the globe, one positive outcome is that people have a better understanding of tourism’s significant impact on the overall world economy.
As Mississippi’s fourth-largest industry, tourism is a $6.7 billion producer for the state, which provides cash-in-hand economic development delivered instantly by visitors. However, building a strong tourism infrastructure is also key to meeting our state’s other economic growth and development goals.
It is not a surprise to anyone that a nice place to visit is also a nice place to live and work. Increasingly, a key draw for attracting talent is quality of life or, simply put, a place worth calling home. Those of us who have made our lives here know Mississippi is a special place filled with people whose warmth, generosity and hospitality are unmatched. While those virtues are attractive in their own right, the next generations are also striving to cultivate a stronger balance between work and life. Therein lies the sweet spot where our greatest
opportunity for economic growth and stability resides.
This is why developing destinations and communities is more important than ever before, and it should be a priority for everyone who wants to see our state thrive. By investing in new tourism offerings and focusing on initiatives that enhance the curb appeal of Mississippi’s communities, we are investing in our future. This provides the tools we need to invite more families and talented workers to become Mississippians, while also helping us to keep our best and brightest here in the state.
One common factor of communities experiencing significant growth in the U.S. have in common is that they are not only lauded as strong business hubs but also known as strong tourism destinations. Taking a look at Dallas, Denver, Nashville, Seattle, Charlotte and Austin, it is easy to see these direct connections. The more visitors we bring into our state directly ties into our brand image and creates new opportunities to attract potential residents and investors.
We have long been known as the hospitality state. Have you ever thought about why that is and why it makes us distinctive? Warmth and hospitality are woven into every fiber of who we are, and it is our people who set us apart and create a profound sense of place. I have often heard people say that Mississippi has a stronger sense of place than anywhere they have ever been. This is an asset unique to our state that we need to leverage for growth.
Tourism is the first date of economic development. No one who is considering relocating, retiring or starting a business in Mississippi is going to do so without first experiencing the state as a visitor. The impression we make is the hook that will keep them coming back for more after getting a taste of what sets us apart.
While attending an economic development event, I heard a speaker discussing how quality of life and quality of place are increasingly important to development efforts. She told of a man who moved to a rural area for a career opportunity. He knew no one and had no family in the area. Shortly after moving, he developed a near-fatal illness. Knowing he didn’t have a support system nearby, the community rallied around him and provided for his physical needs by bringing meals and helping out. In addition, they also surrounded him with support to meet his emotional needs. They wanted to show him that he was part of their community. Years later, he was part of a site selection process for a major development project. Through tears, he shared his story with selectors to illustrate why he would never consider living or working anywhere else. It was not his executive salary, title or benefits package. Rather, it was the quality of life and sense of place that won his loyalty.
Most every area of the country has sites available for development and ways to make a living, but not everywhere has the community, spirit, people and culture that make the living worthwhile. I often ask developer friends, “When you are courting a developer or site selector, are you showing them your community through the eyes of a visitor? Are you showing them what sets your community apart beyond available space and incentives? Does your marketing align with your community’s tourism marketing and is it a cohesive effort? Do you ever ask your tourism professionals to join in on a pitch?” The developers who answer “yes” are generally in the communities that are winning in Mississippi.
State lawmakers and public leaders should be applauded for recognizing the immense value tourism holds for Mississippi’s economic health and investing in its growth and vitality. Mississippi has been a national leader in tourism recovery due to the forward-thinking approach that was conceived by the state’s tourism community and legislative leaders. Equipped with recovery resources, our state’s fourth-largest industry has a stronger foundation than ever to build upon to generate significant revenue for our state’s financial future.
Let’s keep investing in our quality of place. It is yielding tremendous returns to our state’s general fund, our small businesses and our communities.
By doing this we are also building a better, more resilient Mississippi for all who live, work and play here as well as all who visit.
Danielle Morgan is the executive director of the Mississippi Tourism Association
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