January 31, 2013 10:01:03 AM
It's now official: Jennifer Gregory is chief executive officer for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.
Gregory, who joined the GSDP in 2009 as vice president of tourism and its Main Street Association manager, has been the acting CEO since last May.
She took over as the GSDP's interim CEO after former Jon Maynard resigned in May 2012. Part of Maynard's job included economic development in all of Oktibbeha County, but those duties have been handed over to the recently formed Golden Triangle Development Link. Joey Deason was hired to represent the county for the GTDL.
Gregory says her new title is really just that: a title.
"Nothing is really changing from the past year," she said. "There won't be any immediate changes for me or the staff, so that will be really nice."
Along with managing day-to-day operations at the GSDP, Gregory will continue to oversee the Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as the Main Street Association.
Because of the partnership with Deason and the GTDL, Gregory and the rest of the GSDP team can being to devote more time to community development. For Gregory, that means improving the quality of life, across the board.
Gregory said a strategic plan is now in place that will complement similar efforts by Mississippi State University, the county's largest tourist attraction. Last year, the Downtown Pumpkin Palooza was paired with MSU's Maroon Madness, one example of how the city and university have already begun working together, she pointed out.
"To me, I think that is what we have been good at, especially downtown, but we want to expand that," she said. "I think there is a true synergy going on this the community right now, but we still have a lot of work to do."
Tourism spending in Starkville has increased by 33 percent since Gregory joined the GSDP in 2009.
"That is huge, especially compared to the state average," she said.
Although Starkville's sale tax revenues are enhanced by a successful football team and the large crowds they draw, there is evidence of growth that is not connected to MSU football. Gregory noted that December 2012 sale tax revenues are a good indication that the city is not entirely dependent on football traffic.
The biggest advantage Gregory thinks Starkville has at this point is knowing where it stands.
Though it may be hard to admit, big box retail is a necessary component of a growing community, according to Gregory, and Starkville is lacking in that category. She said some master planning has already begun to promote the area to developers and retail consultants.
"It might be a slow process, but we feel like we have a synopsis of what are weaknesses are," she said. "We are just going to have to do more than hone in on what we are good at."