One People, One Goal, One Greenville A community with a plan

By greta sharp  • Photos by Roy Meeks

When Greenville’s Hot Tamale Festival was featured in Garden & Gun and made the cover of Mississippi Magazine, the secret was out. But there’s so much more: a new federal court house, a growing medical center, and thriving new and established businesses all make Greenville a bright spot in the Delta.

Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons says his town is moving forward with more than $80 million in local, state and federal investments. A good portion of the money will aid Downtown Greenville’s renaissance. This includes the $9.1 million renovation of the historic Sears Building, the $1.2 million renovation of the old Rodeway Inn, and $40.1 million for the new Federal Courthouse.

“This will revitalize downtown to the place it needs to be,” Simmons said. In addition, Uncle Ben’s is moving its R&D efforts to Greenville, investing $25 million. Greenville/Washington County CVB Director Wesley Smith expects a hotel announcement on Highway 1 in the next few months.

The city also received $6 million in grants that cover items such as police and firefighter equipment, brownfield cleanup, a bike/pedestrian trail and infrastructure projects.

At the Greenville Mid-Delta Regional Airport, Simmons said Boutique Air’s enplanements have grown exponentially in  2016. The FAA and MDOT awarded the Greenville airport improvement grants, and all airport firefighters are fully certified for the first time in over a decade, said Simmons.

Downtown’s catalyst is Bill Boykin’s The Lofts at 571 and the Downtown Grille. “What’s been amazing is the support we’ve received,” Boykin said. “As a community, we were hungry for something new and invigorating.”

Boykin said the new Federal Courthouse will have a significant financial impact. Owners are cleaning up their properties, replacing windows and making improvements. “I see this attitude change as the biggest thing,” he said. “This town is on fire now.”

Boykin’s current renovation project is the 1,300-square-foot S.H. Kress building, with plans to add a grocery store. “This will give the downtown population, the must vulnerable in our community, a place to pick up fresh, healthy foods,” he said. Boykin anticipates completion in January 2018.

The Mighty Miss. Brewing Co., the first and only brewery in the Delta, is part of downtown’s momentum. While the equipment arrived and a grand opening celebrated in May, beer production—at another brewery—started in March.

“We’re a strong part of downtown revitalization in a unique way,” said founder Jon Alverson. “We are manufacturing a product which is sold throughout the state. While we won’t be the one thing that turns Greenville’s downtown around, we will be a big helper.”

Mighty Miss. also hired Brewmaster Scott Hettig from the Milwaukee area. “The thing that surprised me the most upon my arrival was learning how many transplanted Northerners have made the Delta their home,” he said. “Judging from the warmth and genuineness I’ve witnessed from lifelong residents, I fully appreciate the appeal.”

Regional wholesalers sell the beer throughout Mississippi, with plans to include the Memphis market soon. Alverson’s goal for 2018 is to find the beer in surprising places. “I want to walk into a store somewhere outside the Delta and see the beer in cans on shelves,” he said.

In March, the Mississippi legislature passed a bill allowing breweries to open taprooms. “Our taproom is a warm and inviting environment,” said Hettig. “And it is with a strong personal bias that I can tell you the beer is darn good.”

The Delta Hot Tamale Festival, a project of Main Street Greenville, is a huge crowd pleaser. This year’s event expanded to cover five city blocks with 223 vendor spaces, said Daniel Boggs, CEO of Greater Greenville Development Foundation, the parent organization of Main Street Greenville.

The local paper, The Delta Democrat Times, reported 17,000 festival attendees, but Boggs estimates closer to 19,000. The big event this year was the Flavors of the Festival, a ticketed tamale-tasting event with beer pairings.

Boggs said proceeds from the festival support Downtown Greenville in the form of tax abatements for new businesses, façade grants and beautification, seasonal banners, the farmers’ market and its new pavilion, and plans for a new downtown greenspace. Thanks to its own growth, Boggs said Main Street Greenville is moving one block south.

Popular festivals make for strong tourism. “We’re trending up year after year after year,” said Smith. “We’re up sixpercent over the previous fiscal year.”

The American Queen and the American Duchess steamboats stopped in Greenville twenty times through 2017, with plans for more than forty stops in 2018. While in town, a bus tour takes the visitors to a number of local museums, the E.E. Bass Cultural Arts Center, the Washington County Courthouse and the Trop Casino.

“We are so happy to have them here, but it can be limited opportunity because they’ve already eaten lunch, they get back on the boat at happy hour; they don’t have transportation to go other places we would suggest,” said Smith. He hopes downtown might provide shopping opportunities.

Another agency working to encourage Greenville’s economic development is the Washington County Economic Alliance. “We continue to improve and get ready for the good things coming our way,” said Executive Director Cary Karlson.

This includes videos on WCEA’s website marketing available buildings and sites, and focusing on adding an additional site near the river. Washington County is part of the Delta Strong initiative and Karlson said of the 15 buildings marketed on the Delta Strong website, eight are in Washington County, as are three of the seven land sites.

“Regionalization is the key to success in the Delta,” said Simmons, noting the city supports Delta Strong. And with crime down 35 percent and 15 new patrol cars purchased locally, the city is ready to welcome new businesses and tourists.

From a tourism standpoint, Smith feels working to attract tourists to the region is important. “If we can all get them for a night or two, get them to move around among communities, it can be great for all of us,” he explained.

Debra Wintory, chamber director at the Washington County Economic Alliance, is already working on 2018 projects. The chamber’s biggest event, the annual meeting, is April 10, 2018.

In October, the WCEA Healthcare Committee held its first Teen Health Fair at Greenville High. More than 350 students experienced the Alzheimer’s disease simulator, fire safety gear, and blood pressure and glucose testing. “It was a successful event,” said Wintory. “We’re going to plan another one in the spring and maybe branch out to other schools.”

In May, WCEA’s Education & Workforce Committee hosted its annual jobs fair. The event usually welcomes 750 to 1,200 attendees. “It’s an annual event because we keep getting so many people that need work and businesses that need employees,” says Wintory.

The city is providing opportunities for small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses to apply for state contracts thanks to the eight-week MDA SBA Model Contractor Development Program, says Simmons.

Hard work earning the ACT Work Ready Community Certification is paying dividends. Local employer USG Interiors requires candidates to hold a silver certification and take a nine-week training course. “They’ve hired sixty-five folks from these classes,” said Karlson. “They get employees that have talent, but are trained with the basic skills before even beginning USG.”

Membership in the chamber is an investment for Cypress Design Studio & Framing. “The chamber shares information with people that may not know about us,” said Celeste Sanders. “They were supportive and helpful in our first year of business.”

The home interior store hosted a Business After Hours in conjunction with its ribbon cutting. “The mayor was here for that event,” said Mary Clair Cumbaa. “Having that support from the city made an impact on me.”

The success of the business’ first year is satisfying for Sanders. “We’ve had an incredible year and we’re growing and it’s been incredible,” she said. “To be able to say that here, it really is a source of pride for me.”

Sherman’s Restaurant has called Greenville home since it opened as a grocery store in 1947. Allison and Peter Nimrod approached Charles Sherman about purchasing the restaurant in 2001, but he wasn’t interested in selling until several years later.

Since then, Nimrod has made only minor changes; the restaurant, menu and staff remain largely the same. “My public instantly let me know they were not interested in any changes,” she said.

“We’ve got some fantastic surprises coming up in 2018,” said Nimrod. This includes a fresh look for the outside, menu development and plans to attract fresh faces. “Sherman’s is just a real comfortable atmosphere,” said Nimrod. “We’re home-owned, with a lot of smiling faces, a lot of great service and the same experienced staff.”

Other local businesses are there in times of emergency. When Jana Sides and her husband were in a motorcycle accident and he needed to be airlifted to Jackson, AirMedCare Network-Air Evac Lifeteam made the trip. With no air ambulance membership, the flight cost over $44,000, and the Sides’ insurance covered less than a quarter.

Air Evac Lifeteam covers transport by air ambulance for life- or limb-threatening emergencies to Level 1 or Level 2 trauma centers. “It basically cuts the transport time in half,” said Sides. “That could mean the difference between life and death.”

Today, Sides is the Air Evac Lifeteam’s local membership sales manager. She believes in the product so strongly that she’s even sold a membership at a gas station. Memberships are available in yearly or multi-yearly plans.

The local coverage area includes nine Mississippi counties and four Arkansas counties. The AirMedCare Network covers 320 bases across 38 states. Locally, Air Evac Lifeteam provides outreach education to fire departments, law enforcement and health care providers.

“We have assets in the community,” said Area Director Beverly Johnson. “We want people to know they have access to that level of health care and that we have a membership program available to protect them from the financial burden of a flight bill.”

Many health care needs can be met at home, thanks to Delta Regional Medical Center, Greenville’s largest employer. DRMC is renovating its ambulatory unit, which provides outpatient surgeries and procedures, as well as infusion therapies.

And, thanks to telehealth, DRMC physicians can connect with neurologists at St. Dominic’s Comprehensive Stroke Center. The cardiac unit is adding Strain Imaging Technology to monitor patients on drug therapies.

“We continue to make significant strides not only in saving lives every day, but investing back into the health and wellness of our community,” said CEO Scott Christensen. “Serving as the only Level 3 trauma center in the Delta, we saw over 48,000 emergency room visits last year as we continue to serve our community.”

In 2018, DRMC plans to start a residency program, serve more patients and improve quality of care. “DRMC is looking to expand our outpatient services and also reach out to our outlying communities while our focus continues to be on helping our community stay healthy with wellness and preventive medicine,” says Executive Director of Ancillary Services, Janet Benzing.