Small towns and small businesses play a large role in Mississippi’s economy, contribute to the quality of life of many Mississippians and draw tourists from across the country and around the world. According to the U.S. Census, in 2019, approximately 90% of Mississippi's 2.7 million residents reside in rural areas and small towns. Forty percent of those Mississippians live in rural unincorporated area, while 50% reside in small incorporated towns of less of 50,000 residents.
Mississippi Public Universities provide programs, research, institutes and conferences that improve small towns and rural areas across the state. The universities help small businesses grow, thrive and provide jobs to residents . IHL universities also serve as a liaison between small businesses, elected officials and local residents aiding in the development of solutions to address a wide variety of issues.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service houses the Center for Government and Community Development, providing a range of resources to support rural communities and small businesses. Programs include Community Food Systems, Downtown Revitalization and Community Economic Development, Leadership and Community Engagement, Small Business Development, Keys to Community, and Tourism. Almost 27,000 leaders from small businesses, nonprofits, and government participated in Extension’s community development initiatives in 2020, with 23 percent of services going to small businesses, many of which received guidance for accessing COVID-relief assistance. Local government training programs made up 44 percent of the center’s contacts in 2020. From teaching officials and owners how to provide services remotely to continuing professional development digitally, Extension offers the services small businesses, organizations, and government officials need to do their jobs better.
Located in a secluded area high above the old Tombigbee River Channel near Columbus, Mississippi University for Women’s Plymouth Bluff Center is a 190-acre educational and recreational facility. This unique center in the beautiful woodlands of east central Mississippi provides the ideal setting for learning, growth, and recreation in a natural setting.
The Rural Public Policy and Planning program at Mississippi Valley State University seeks to fulfill the need for graduate study in rural communities and small-town governments like those in the Mississippi Delta and the broader Delta region. The Program provides opportunities for graduate education for those interested in or currently serving in various administrative capacities in rural and small-town governments, private and non-profit organizations. Also, the Program helps those who desire to pursue doctoral studies in public policy, planning, administration, management, and related fields. The Program also appeals to non-traditional students seeking to expand their knowledge bases and problem-solving approaches in addressing the myriad of problems in everyday life of rural communities. For more information about MVSU's Rural Public Policy and Planning graduate program, call (662) 254-3352.
Among the many ways the University of Mississippi demonstrates its commitment to community partnership is the M Partner program, a community engagement effort launched in 2018 with the goal of improving life in Mississippi communities. M Partner paired university resources and expertise with priority projects in the inaugural partner communities of Charleston, Lexington and New Albany. Projects identified by communities revolved around educational attainment, economic development, health and wellness, and beautification and tourism. During the pilot phase, deep connections were made through: 25 faculty and staff members engaged with more than 400 students in 35 courses and projects, 18 programs and special events, and 15 national service placements in M Partner communities. These efforts reached an estimated 8,000 individuals across the three pilot communities.
The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) provides an array of programs and services dedicated to the advancement of Mississippi communities and citizens. The University’s Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development and Entrepreneurship partners with public entities, nonprofit organizations, businesses and individuals to plan and implement activities designed to generate jobs and income across Mississippi. The USM Small Business Development Center, a partnership program with the U.S. Small Business Administration, provides training workshops and one-on-one counseling to pre-venture clients, prospective entrepreneurs, micro-businesses, and small- to medium-sized businesses. The center supports business clients and interests within Clarke, Covington, Forrest, Greene, Jasper, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Lamar, Marion, Perry and Wayne counties.
Alcorn State University, in partnership with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is developing outreach strategies to assist those financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The University and the two entities convened via online webinar in early October to discuss ways of developing outreach strategies to those eligible for Economic Impact Stimulus payments. The initiative is also Alcorn’s way of reaching out to various communities to spread valuable information that could help them during this time. People who were excluded from automatic delivery payments must sign up by Saturday, Nov. 21, to receive the payment this year.
Delta State University is providing local entrepreneurs with resources and support to plan, start or grow their small business through its Business Assistance Center (BAC). The BAC provides high-quality services for entrepreneurial startups and women-owned businesses located within a 10-county service area in the Mississippi Delta. In addition, DSU’s Local Government Leadership Institute, in partnership with the John C. Stennis Institute of Government & Community Development at Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Municipal League, provides resources and support to help officials from 18 Delta counties lead their municipalities effectively and efficiently. The Annual Delta Mayors’ Summit facilitates roundtable discussions on opportunities and challenges in improving the Delta and updates participants on related efforts undertaken by DSU.
Jackson State University and Mississippi U.S. Senator Roger Wicker joined the Federal Communications Commission and corporate tech experts during a technology forum and called for narrowing the digital divide by providing greater access to broadband technology in rural areas. JSU also committed to building a trained technology workforce statewide, including cybersecurity, and helping students receive apprenticeships and internships. Also, the JSU-Small Business Development Center is part of a network of Small Business Development Centers throughout the nation that brings expert business knowledge to local small businesses at no cost. It serves towns and communities in Attala, Hinds, Holmes, Madison, and Yazoo counties. The JSU-SBC provides training workshops and free and confidential one-on-one counseling to various small businesses. It also helps with business plan development, cash flow analyses and loan packaging.
Across the state, in rural communities such as Marks, Crystal Springs, Greenwood and Laurel, Mississippi State University’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center helps find answers to problems faced by local municipalities. Since its beginning in 1979 as the nation’s first community design center solely focused on small town issues, this planning and research hub has empowered Mississippi’s downtowns and neighborhoods to envision and implement state-of-the-art solutions, bringing a new vibrance and momentum to areas once considered off the beaten path. Research, feasibility studies, design workshops and grant preparation are a few of the many tactics the center uses to resolve challenges, reinvigorate local economies and improve the entire Magnolia state.