The essential EMBDC

Dr. Lee Thornton

Every town has a spirit....and that spirit will inevitably go through periods of elation and growth, periods of relative steadiness or “business as usual” and periods of depression where the spirit of the town seems to be in the dumps.

The town spirit has many factors which affect its course but primarily it is the collective attitude and support of the citizens who determine its spirit and therefore its growth and direction.

There is one organization whose sole purpose is to facilitate the strength of our community. Formed in 1996 by a group of visionary business leaders, the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation serves the City of Meridian, Town of Marion, Lauderdale County, and over 500 dues-paying members.

It’s mission is to empower a diverse leadership culture to achieve economic wealth through excellence in education, new investment, and the nurturing of existing business and industry.

I was born here in 1963 and it seems my earliest clear memories of my hometown began around 1966 or ‘67. Those early memories revolve around two places, Mrs. McGowan’s preschool and downtown Meridian. Downtown Meridian in those days had an exciting vibe from daylight until well into the night.

The sidewalks were full of businessmen, railroad employees, shoppers and visitors passing through. I got my hair cut in the Threefoot building, went to my dentist, Dr. Ray, downtown on 22nd Ave, shopped at Loeb’s, Harry Mayer, and at Marks Rothenberg (where I put my feet in that Buster Brown X-ray machine to get my size measured..... hmmm bet that wouldn't pass safety standards today)!

The smell of coffee roasting and fresh bread when the wind was right, restaurants, pool halls, cigars, trains and greyhound buses .... there was an excitement in the town, the spirit was high and it was the people that made it that way.

That’s right the citizens, their attitude and support transcended highs and lows in the economy, transcended political and social issues, and it was because collectively the citizens of Meridian made supporting their city, county and region an ongoing priority through their actions, their work and their words.

I never knew my grandfather but he opened and managed the first JC Penny store downtown. I was always told that he was very proud of his town and was adamant that in order to have a successful community every citizen should “give back”.

That meant give in whatever way is feasible for that individual be it volunteering, getting involved with community and civic organizations, or simply just supporting and speaking in a positive way about anything related to the community.

It doesn’t take money necessarily and in the big picture it doesn’t take a lot of time. There are many ways in which we can give back to our community but he felt that participating in the Chamber of Commerce was the most effective. After all, business, schools and churches have inner organization or people that guide and help determine their course, so if you weren’t a city or county public servant or elected official then the organization specifically designed to foster community development was the Chamber.

He passed that notion of the obligation to “give back” to my father who despite being a very busy surgeon found time, made time to actively give back in many ways including as president of the Chamber of Commerce and multiple other civic organizations in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s.

The Chamber of Commerce and other organizations like the Lively Arts Festival, Meridian Little Theatre, civic organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis and others were full of members who genuinely cared in a selfless manner about the continued growth and development of the community, its businesses and its spirit. In short, they gave back!

I didn’t live here in Meridian for nearly 20 years during my college, medical school and post graduate training. I lived in Oxford, Jackson, New Orleans, Seattle, Denver, Dallas and Atlanta during those years and therefore I was able to experience a quite diverse and different cultures than what I was accustomed to growing up in Meridian. Upon my return I found that unlike the cities I had been experiencing Our community had not grown and in fact had contracted somewhat.

Many factors are thrown around as to why but none that are not found in other similar towns that had been thriving......except, in my opinion, the “collective spirit” was depressed compared to what I left 20 years before.

I was hearing complaining and negative comments about many issues and the truth was the only real common thread to account for it was that the loss of support and an overall negative attitude of much of the population.

Whether you are familiar with it or not our community has a tremendously rich history in arts, entertainment, music, business, medicine, transportation and quality of life. All of the factors that made our community what it was at its height are still present today. Those things never left. The spirit and attitude and how we visualize and support it has changed. There are ample opportunities at any level to engage and support the progression of whatever is important to you in our community.

We are so fortunate to have The EMBDC to lead and facilitate endeavors of all types for the sole purpose of improving our community. I ask you to look into what they are doing for our region and to join, support and facilitate their work. After all, their efforts are indeed your efforts, our efforts. The EMBDC operates for OUR benefit solely.

I would challenge everyone to try a simple change in outlook and attitude and get out and support the EMBDC and its many partner community organizations. That support and attitude will benefit us all immensely. GIVE BACK!

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