Millsaps College has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the Robert N. Hearin Foundation to assist in the development of a business incubator in Jackson's Midtown neighborhood.
The goal of the grant is to build on existing partnerships to grow the creative economy of the Midtown area, focusing on the following:
"Midtown's rich history and the investments being made by so many partners, businesses and residents make Midtown an ideal location to model how to grow creative assets in communities across the state," said Dr. Robert Pearigen, president of Millsaps College. He cited recent investments in housing by Habitat for Humanity, as well as future investments being discussed for the neighboring Mississippi Health Corridor.
ElseWorks Entrepreneurship Team member Joe Donovan and students tour buildings with development potential in the Midtown neighborhood
"This initiative, led by the faculty of our Else School of Management, goes straight to the heart of the College's mission as well as its new strategic plan," he said. "It provides experiential learning opportunities while giving students a way to actively and purposefully engage with and support our local community through mutually beneficial strategic partnerships."
Pearigen noted that Millsaps has an historic association with Midtown. First, many alumni have resided in the area during college. Secondly, through the leadership of Dr. Darby Ray, former director of the Millsaps Faith & Work Initiative, and Ann Phelps, interim director of the Faith & Work Initiative, the College has been active in Midtown through the 1 Campus 1 Community initiative.
"We have observed very talented and motivated partners coming together to make a difference in Midtown in various levels. We are grateful to the Hearin Foundation for providing us with the funding to take a key leadership role in this new initiative," Pearigen said.
Key collaborators with Millsaps are the Midtown Arts District, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and Midtown Partners, a non-profit created by the merger in 2010 of the North Midtown Community Development Corporation and Good Samaritan Midtown. The mission of Midtown Partners is to make the economically challenged Midtown area a desirable place in which to live, work and raise families.
A broader group of partners providing input and resources include the City of Jackson, the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the Jackson Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity, the Walker Foundation, Brown Elementary, Rowan Middle School, and Midtown residents and businesses.
Development, implementation, and management of the business incubator will be the responsibility of the Millsaps' Else School of Management and its ELSEWorks entrepreneurial initiative. Undergraduate and graduate students receive real-life business experiences while assisting the local community through ELSEWorks.
Depending on their involvement, students will receive stipends and course credit on the graduate level, and, on the undergraduate level, experience as a part of class consulting projects. Paid internships also will be available to a small number of undergraduate students.
Overseeing the project will be the ELSEWorks Entrepreneurship Team, which is composed of five faculty members with more than 100 total years of diversified experience in business, finance and marketing. Team members are Dr. David H. Culpepper, chair, professor of accounting; Joe Donovan, director of entrepreneurial development; Dr. Blakely Fox Fender, professor of economics; Dr. M. Ray Grubbs, professor of management; and Dr. Penelope J. Prenshaw, professor of marketing.
"Social entrepreneurship is a key component of ELSEWorks. In addition, other entrepreneurial initiatives include an academic concentration, commercialization of research, and entrepreneurial training," said Dr. Kimberly Burke, dean of the Else School of Management.
The Millsaps Avenue Arts District has been home to local artists
and creative outlets for decades
Since Pearl River Glass Studio opened on Millsaps Avenue 35 years ago, Midtown has been a home for artists, but a lack of outside support and technical assistance has limited potential and growth. A community survey conducted in 2010 indicated that 39 percent of participants were interested in receiving assistance for an existing business or starting a new business.
"In Midtown, you can find traditional and functional art made by painters, welders, carpenters, glass and ceramic artists, cabinet makers, and individuals skilled in woodworking and cabinet making," said Mary Elizabeth Evans, director of community and economic development at Midtown Partners. "Our immediate goal is to increase the number of businesses, provide more jobs, and ensure the success of existing and new businesses. We want to encourage entrepreneurships among Midtown residents."
An inspiration and advantage, Evans noted, for Midtown is its proximity to city areas that have undergone a successful rebirth - downtown Jackson and the Fondren and Belhaven neighborhoods and business districts. "Our overall desire is to increase the vibrancy of the Midtown community, making it a more attractive area to live, work, and visit," she said.
Plans call for the incubator to be housed in a 10,000-square-foot donated warehouse two blocks from the heart of the Midtown Arts District. Millsaps students and faculty will provide strategic, accounting, financial, marketing, and planning assistance to incubator clients as well as existing businesses. A waiting list of businesses interested in locating in the incubator already exists.
The project is to be implemented during three years and also includes the creation of a community gathering space. "Many community development experts recognize the importance of informal public gathering places such as coffee shops, internet cafes, and community co-ops. These spaces can have a dynamic role in the exchange of information, networking and business growth. Eighty percent of respondents in a recent community survey indicated a need for such a place in Midtown," Culpepper said. Plans call for the business incubator and community gathering place to open during the second year of the grant.
Although ELSEWorks team members had previously discussed the development of a Midtown business incubator, the idea found synergy when two members, Prenshaw and Donovan, attended the August 2011 Mississippi Creative Economy Summit. "It was clear that Midtown was the ideal community to 'test' the strategies mapped out in the summit," Prenshaw said.
The project also reflects the recommendations of Blueprint Mississippi and a growing body of national research highlighted in Richard Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class. The premise is that talented people, businesses that need talent, and tourists are increasingly drawn to places with a creative and cultural environment. This creative environment, in turn, stimulates innovation, especially in science and technology. Austin, Texas, is cited as one of the best examples of cities benefiting from a highly creative climate.
This approach has the potential of being a win/win for the Midtown area and for Millsaps students.
"We believe by placing our students in a position to have meaningful input into high level decisions that have very real and potentially transformative consequences, they learn to embrace diversity, risk, and important challenges - thus, how to be a leader," Culpepper said. "Meanwhile, the revitalization of the Midtown area improves the quality of life for those in Midtown and for our students."
Millsaps' president concurs. "The combination of ELSEWorks and the other academic opportunities at Millsaps represents a distinctive advantage over offerings from most other liberal arts colleges," Pearigen said. "We believe current and prospective students will find the combination of opportunities and experiences very appealing."
Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, believes the project can have an even greater impact. "The work being done in Midtown, and the partnership with the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Development Authority, Millsaps College, and the Hearin Foundation, is a great example of how communities tell their story, create new economic opportunities, educate their children, and engage in building civic pride. This is exactly the kind of 21st Century thinking and collaboration that can redevelop and invigorate neighborhoods, communities and counties across Mississippi."
The Hearin Foundation was established in the will of Robert M. Hearin Sr., the Mississippi Valley Gas Co. chairman and chief executive officer who died in 1992. The organization primarily supports Mississippi's universities and colleges and economic development.
For more information about Millsaps College, the Else School of Management, and/or the Midtown Creative Economy Initiative, contact Joe Donovan, director of entrepreneurial development, at 601-665-3975.