By Lena Mitchell / Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
BELMONT – A recent article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine confirmed what Belmont residents have known all along: The town is a great place to live and raise kids.
The town was the Mississippi runner-up in BusinessWeek’s “Best Places in America to Raise Kids.”
Jeremy Allison doesn’t have to read the magazine to know about that. He learned the lesson for himself.
“We moved to Dallas, Texas, for a month and I found very quickly there were so many advantages to living in a small town,” said the divorced father of two, who manages All Occasions Floral Design in Belmont.
His children – Conner, 11, and Cali, 5 – attend Belmont schools where they are active academically and in after-school sports.
“The school system is amazing,” Allison said. “The teachers are very personable and there are multiple classes for each grade, which means fewer kids in each classroom and more one-on-one time for the kids with a teacher.”
Belmont native Beth Hodgin agrees. She has thought at different times about leaving town, but is glad to be raising her 21/2-year-old son, Tanner, in the town where she grew up.
“It’s a good place for schools and now we have the new Kidz Town,” Hodgin said. “My little boy likes to go there a lot.”
The Kidz Town play area, a wood-constructed play zone with climbing, slides and a variety of other features, was built last year with about $120,000 raised and donated by residents, and with their labor, said Mayor Buddy Wiltshire.
“That project is an example of how the community will and does pull together,” said Bob Yarber, owner of Yarber Drug Store and former Belmont mayor. “This is a fine place to raise kids and to live.”
In fact, supporting the community’s children and families is the glue that holds everything else together, many in the community agree.
“I moved to town in 2006 with an eighth-grader and a 10th-grader,” said Brother Greg Forbus, pastor of Belmont United Methodist Church. “My children were able to participate in activities like band, and also got excellent academics. One is majoring in chemical engineering and the other in radiology, and they were very well-equipped.”
From one end of Belmont to the other, residents pull together to support each other, said Glenda Williams, owner of the Belmont Cafe. And the unity doesn’t stop at Belmont’s city limits but extends to the other nearby towns of Dennis and Golden.
“When people come in it’s like they’re coming home,” Williams said. “Everybody feels welcome. And we support each other, carrying out plates to sick folks, and when there’s sickness in the community everybody pulls together.”
BusinessWeek used a community survey company – OnBoard Informatics – to evaluate demographics, educational climate, cost of living, housing and employment as factors to assess 5,418 communities in the United States.
Belmont came in second to Senatobia in Mississippi, while Tinley Park, Ill., was the overall winner.
With a population of less than 2,000 – 1,961 according to 2000 U.S. Census data – less than a decade ago Belmont boasted more than 3,000 manufacturing jobs, largely in manufactured housing. Now manufacturing employment is in the hundreds, with Tiffin Motor Homes its largest employer.
“We’ve had a lot to overcome with the loss of jobs,” said Alderman Steve Smith. “Even so, we have very aggressive economic development efforts with our development foundation trying to be proactive.”
The Tishomingo County Board of Supervisors works hard to back up the development foundation’s efforts while also pursuing economic development projects on its own, said 5th District Supervisor James McDowell.
Even in the economic downturn, Tiffin continues to do quite well in its high-end RV niche, said Wiltshire, whose job as mayor is part time and who works as a manager with Tiffin.
“Some local entrepreneurs have taken a risk and really done well here with their enterprises,” Wiltshire said. “They’ve stayed, been committed to our community and provided a lot of jobs.”
But the community’s schools are still the top priority for parents in determining how well a community can meet the family’s needs.
As superintendent of the Tishomingo County School District and former principal at Belmont, Malcolm Kuykendall knows the community’s expectations very well.
“I moved here 29 years ago and felt as one of them very soon,” Kuykendall said. “I think we do have great schools, but the reason is the community is so supportive and has high expectations.”
High expectations and a safe, supportive community are among the advantages Allison thought to give his children by bringing them back to Belmont from Dallas, the same positive environment he grew up in.
“The kids can play outside without me worrying who’s next door,” he said.
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.