OUR OPINION: Tourism, culture alliance holds potential for region

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tuesday’s delivery of a management plan by a Nashville consulting firm to the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance substantially increases the possibilities for coordinated tapping of cultural resources in 30 northern counties – an effort under development for a decade.
The draft management plan from Nashville-based Walker Collaborative is a big step forward in presenting a final plan for approval to the southeastern region of the National Park Service. Then, after qualifying as a full participant, the alliance would be able to compete for federal funds with 48 other heritage alliance areas nationwide. It is capped at receiving $150,000 per budget year from federal sources, and all of it must be matched dollar for dollar.
The alliance has been able to fully fund the match from local government, the state, memberships and other supporters. It has a $325,000 operating budget, but it could gain more funding once a management plan is in place.
Corinth resident Kent Bain and Tupelo resident Bobby King, a professional marketer, have guided the alliance. King said being able to raise the matching amount and go with money in hand to the next levels of funding has been a big plus.
King said on Wednesday he hopes a marketing plan can be presented to the NPS regional office by Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year.
The national heritage area covers all of the area from I-55 on the west, Alabama on the east, Tennessee on the north and Mississippi Highway 14 on the south. King said the management plan would provide the marketing structure for the area, with retiring Baby Boomers as a primary demographic target for tourism. The plan focuses on four primary themes: Native American heritage, African-American heritage, the Civil War and the arts (focusing on music and literature).
The heritage areas have been capped at least temporarily at 49, so the time is ripe for taking advantage of every opportunity.
The primary focus sites would be spread across the area from Corinth to DeSoto County, with Tupelo, Oxford and Pontotoc playing key roles. The idea has been carefully developed, and the payoff could be enriching.