Grenada: Right on the Verge of Greatness

Grenada has the best of both worlds. It’s firmly invested in its historic downtown and natural resources. But the city also welcomes new opportunities: a local television station, strong economic development and improvements to transportation infrastructure. Grenada makes it all work together, with impressive results.

A $7.54 million grant made possible by Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker helped improve the railroad from Grenada to Canton, said Wanda Thompson of the Grenada Area Chamber of Commerce. At the Grenada Municipal Airport, Sunshine Aviation completed a new hangar, representing a $50,000 corporate investment and the creation of 15 new jobs.

The City of Grenada formalized its budget in September, including funding for street overlay and water quality improvement. But some 60 to 75 percent of the city’s budget goes to the fire and police departments.

“We make sure we have the equipment to be an A-1 fire department for the protection of the people,” explained Mayor Billy Collins. “We’re one of the few cities in the state with a No. 4 ranking, and the lower your rating, the better your system.”

The city works to provide the police department with the equipment needed to keep Grenada’s citizens safe. “We really emphasize public safety in Grenada,” said Collins. “If people can’t feel safe, people are going to move and you’ll have problems.”

Locals can look forward to seeing more of Grenada on their TV screens, thanks to Charlie Whitfield of Whitfield Media who bought the local broadcast television station in town. Currently, it runs a religious format with local church programs. Whitfield plans on few changes initially, then will begin updating the format, talking to area businesses and providing a local product.

“It will be a local area, 30-minute show on the good things going on in Grenada,” Whitfield said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, to get out in the community, take the camera around Grenada and interview local celebrities: the mayor, people who work in banks and other businesses.”

Grenada’s location is important, said Whitfield. The city is two hours in any direction from a television station: Memphis, Jackson, Tupelo/Columbus and Greenville. As a community-based station, he’s already met with Delta State University about running football games, as well as other local sports.

“We’re been taking about this for quite some time, laying the groundwork, getting ready,” said Whitfield.  “We’re just going to highlight what’s good about Grenada.”

There’s a lot of good happening in Grenada. So much, in fact, that the chamber’s slogan is “Promoting Grenada Through Our Strengths.” Thompson said these include great schools, a hospital that is part of the largest Mississippi medical facility, a wonderful public golf course, the No. 1 crappie lake in the country and fine hunting land.

Economic development is one of Grenada’s strengths. “The Grenada County Economic Development District has always had at its core existing industrial development,” said Project Manager Janie Mortimer. “We work well with existing industry.” As local businesses expand and create infrastructure development, new jobs are created.

Jobs are an important topic with Collins. “If you keep adding jobs, it helps everybody: automotive dealers, medical professionals, grocery stores, home buyers,” he said. “You have to have jobs. You’ve got to have jobs or your community will die.”

Mortimer said an important part of recruitment is workforce development. The Make it in Grenada/Make it in Manufacturing is a project with the Grenada School District that educates high school students about manufacturing job opportunities, and it’s already proving successful.

Work on the industrial park continues, said Mortimer, with about six to nine months to completion. “Grenada County can take great pride in that it was able to pull together all the resources to make this a reality,” she said. This includes federal, state and regional resources, as well as the City of Grenada, which dedicated the land for industrial development.

Grenada is getting noticed, said Mortimer, especially with the industrial park and a spec building fronting the interstate. With Grenada’s location halfway between the Toyota and Nissan plants, she’s seeing interest from automotive suppliers.

The EDD Board is currently searching for a new executive director, said EDD Chairman Keith Mitchell, who is the North Mississippi Area President for Regions Bank. He expects to have a new executive director in place this fall.

“We want someone with energy and drive and knowledge of the industry,” he stated. A true developer, who knows how to speak the language and doesn’t mind working 60 hours a week.”

Small business owners are used to long hours, but Jason Golding is seeing a shift away from retail in his two businesses, Grenada Lake Charters and Lakeway Sporting Goods. “The only businesses to survive will have to be unique or have good services, so you’ve got to make adjustments,” he explained.

Golding uses social media to connect with more than 100,000 Facebook followers. He started in business 26 years ago and saw growth for the first 24, but then recognized the retail world was beginning to shift and deteriorate, and saw a need for smarter business tactics.

He hopes Grenada will follow a similar plan, promoting its resources to interested parties, including potential residents, via social media. Golding has even recommended a Grenada version of Angie’s List, recommending local businesses and services.

Real estate is a strong industry in Grenada. Judy Lundy of Coldwell Banker Landmark Realty said the hot market is the $140,000 to $200,000 range. The number of sales this year is a little less than last year, Lundy reported, but the average days on the market is less this year and the average sales price is more than last year.

There are several factors that make Grenada such an attractive location. “We have a good school system,” Lundy said. “Workers in surrounding counties may buy a house to live here so their kids can go to school here.” Grenada’s vibrant downtown is also a popular draw.

The Grenada Downtown Innovation District is the catalyst behind many of the renovations and improvements in the area. It also hosts special events, fundraisers and welcomes new businesses.

“The downtown square is the heart of our city,” explained Steering Committee Member Kevin Moore. “When we fix the heart, we fix a lot of things in our area. The Grenada Downtown Innovation District is full of unique assets, such as historic houses, the town square, abundant upper-level apartment potential and other assets that need individual investments to make it happen. This will help develop lifestyle choices and activities that will help recruit and retain companies that will provide additional jobs in our area.”

Downtown Grenada is gearing up for the Grenada Afterglow Film Festival on Oct. 6-7, said Gary Worsham, executive director of the Grenada Tourism Commission. This event includes short indie films, live music and comedy shows, technology, entrepreneurial and arts workshops, and the Afterglow Throwdown Video and Card Game Tournament.

On Dec. 2, Grenada begins a month-long holiday celebration, said Worsham, lighting up buildings downtown and projecting Christmas scenes on the side of City Hall on the weekends.

Perhaps one of the biggest transformations downtown was when the historic post office changed from a private residence to a bridal boutique. Jan Walton sold the property to Bethany McRee of Engagements Bridal & Formal Wear in February 2017.

“I still to this day love downtown and I’m so excited about the renovations,” said Walton. “I love historic properties and it was so special to me that they renovated it even grander than we renovated it.” The property is a Mississippi Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Katie Beth Walton was one of the first brides to purchase her wedding gown at Engagements’ new location. “Finding my wedding dress at my childhood home came full circle,” she said. “Growing up as a little girl, I always dreamed of my wedding day and finding the perfect dress. There were so many fashion shows in my ‘play room’ at the post office while growing up. So, being able to find my wedding dress for my special day at my childhood home was full of emotions and wonderful, sweet memories.”

Engagements is a full-service bridal shop, including bridal, bridesmaids, tuxedoes, special occasion, and prom and pageant. McRee estimates she has 3,000 to 4,000 dresses in the shop, providing a great selection.

But it’s the experience that sets Engagements apart from the competition. “We’re not a shoe store,” McRee said. “You don’t run in and grab something and leave. It’s full service from start to finish and we all love what we do.”

When McRee moved Engagements downtown, she doubled her space. Now one side of the store has prom and pageant gowns, complete with a stage and runway, while the other side is dedicated to bridal.

Downtown is the perfect spot, she said. “I think we’re right on the verge of greatness, with the amount of time, money and energy and love that people who have taken on a downtown project put into it,” McRee said. “We’re very glad we made the decision. Our parking lot is constantly full, there are constantly cars going by; there is a lot of activity.”

Walton shares McRee’s enthusiasm for the downtown renaissance. “I’m so excited. Our downtown is absolutely gorgeous,” she said, noting from Lofts on the Square to Engagements to First & Green, everything is top quality.

While there is renewed enthusiasm for downtown, interest in Grenada Lake never wavered. “We’re standing right at the front door of the No. 1 crappie lake in the world,” said Golding.

From a tourism standpoint, the lake is a big draw. “Our main focus is and always has been the lake,” said Worsham. “Hunting and fishing is a big market for us.” Worsham estimates Grenada hosts eight to ten regional and national crappie tournaments annually, bringing many visitors to the area.

One of the biggest events on the lake is the Grenada Lake Association: Thunder on Water Safe Boating Festival. Held in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it includes beauty pageants, car shows, carnivals and fishing tournaments. The 25th anniversary of Thunder on Water is June 6-10, 2018, said Executive Director Wanda Roche, one of the original founders of the event.

The event was named one of the top 25 events in the Southeast a few years ago due to the number of people it attracts: more than 118,000 people attended this year’s festival. “It keeps people coming back to Grenada and it’s the satisfaction of seeing everyone having a good time, but without the sponsors and volunteers, it would not happen,” explained Roche.

All this activity means good returns for Grenada. “We’ve had a full year of activities that brought a lot of people to Grenada,” said Collins. “Our sales tax is up, our tourism tax is up. That’s people coming and shopping Grenada.”