Agri-Center moves receive go ahead

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The embattled Lee County Agri-Center could have a new marketing director and facilities manager by December.
Lee County supervisors unanimously voted Monday to advertise for those positions, based on the recommendations of a nine-member panel tasked with studying the county-owned property.
The two positions were among numerous suggestions the committee made in a comprehensive report to the board.
Supervisors appointed the committee about five months ago while struggling to determine the fate of the perpetually unprofitable facility. Its director had resigned in October 2011, and it was bleeding money from the county coffers.
Committee members have met several times since their appointment to tour the Agri-Center, note its physical deficiencies, research its financial history, speak with industry experts and brainstorm potential revenue-makers.
Their final recommendations include installing new landscaping, making several repairs and facilities improvements, taking advantage of social media, and implementing year-round programs to draw large crowds and generate much-needed revenue.
Such programs could include an agri-tourism exhibit geared toward young children with features like a corn maze, pony rides and a petting zoo. It would serve as a family destination and school field trip venue.
Committee chairman Stuart Johnson said Lee County could model itself after Bluejack Ridge, a sprawling ranch in Poplarville that provides an authentic farming experience to children and hosts more than 20,000 visitors annually.
The group also recommended installing a “Ninja Warrior 5k Obstacle Course” that would offer older teens and adults a unique physical challenge. And they suggested the Agri-Center offer a series of workshops on hunting, fishing, canoeing, archery and gardening.
“We wanted to mold our model after the private sector to be able to bring in revenue,” Johnson said.
But the Agri-Center’s success hinges on finding a capable and energetic director with marketing savvy, financial expertise and managerial skills, Johnson said. It must be someone who views the facility as his or her own and fights for its future.
That person also needs a facilities manager to set up for events and maintain the complex.
Supervisors gave the committee authority to conduct the job searches and recommend hiring picks to the board.
“This is the first solid plan we’ve had since I’ve been on the board,” said District 2 Supervisor Bobby Smith. “Look, I’m going for broke on it. We’ve fiddled around with this thing for 13 years.”

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