I attended a seminar this morning sponsored by the Natchez Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Association. Though I'm not a business owner I wanted to glean information for, perhaps, personal application as well as what might be good for the city of Natchez.
John Brandon, Mississippi Development Authority, gave a presentation which he called "Buy-Ology of Business: How to Thrive in a Difficult Economy". He's a great speaker with a wonderful sense of humor and excellent delivery of pertinent information.
He related a maxim from the writings of the French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). The story in one of Apollinaire's poems is about a group of people who are encouraged time and again to come to the edge of the cliff but they are afraid and eventually, pushed over the edge of the cliff, "they flew". I think the point of this story is that we are all somewhat fearful of the consequences of the current economic crises and are hesitant to move in any direction but what is needed is the courage to move forward, to invest in a new vision for this country. We might just need a little push over that fearsome edge to realize our dreams.
The overall import of Mr. Brandon's message dealt with the small business owner but I felt there was a practical application, in a larger sense, for our city. What do we have that we are passionate about? What can we do better than anyone else? We can become the world's best ____? We can create a "Mecca", a center for the world's best something! And, he reminded us that 78% of the jobs in Natchez are tourism related.
I hear a lot of bemoaning that tourism just isn't going to cut it for the jobs we need in this city. I can and do understand that concern. But I also feel we've not, as a city, created a vision of what we can become. When we develop a thriving heritage tourism "Mecca" other kinds of jobs and industry will eventually spin off of that success. Mr. Brandon talked about the thousands of international tourists who visit Memphis each year. And what is it that makes Memphis so special? They have a heritage tourism industry related to blues music, right? Well, we could have a smaller version of just that. We already have a great start as an Arts community. Why not have an Art and Entertainment District rich with galleries, music venues surrounded by shops with related merchandise?
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Fredericksburg, Texas, an agricultural community in the West Texas Hill Country. This lovely little hamlet, remote from the interstate and populated areas of Texas, is a thriving tourist destination chock full of antique stores, galleries, gourmet restaurants. On that weekday of our visit the sidewalks were teeming with tourists perusing the shops and galleries. The buildings are historic and new construction takes on the characteristics of the old. The Chamber of Commerce website says that "Over the last 20 years tourism has taken a giant step forward and is now a big part of our economy." And, they, too, have ordinances for their historic district. (www.fredericksburg-texas.com) Their community calendar is full with lots of live music events, theatre, festivals and fairs...and a First Friday Art Walk like ours, thanks to Carrie Lambert, Natchez DDA.
I should point out that Fredericksburg is half the size of Natchez and they don't have our beautiful and amazing Mississippi River. Someday we, too, will fly!