ELLISVILLE, MS (JONES COUNTY JUNIOR COLLEGE) - Taking PRIDE to a whole new level has earned the City of Ellisville the Southern Economic Development Council's (SEDC) 2010 Community Economic Development Award for towns with a population under 5,000. The city also earned state recognition in June, allowing the winning program, "Progress Reinvigorated in Determined Ellisville," (PRIDE) to compete regionally.
The SEDC award was presented to Ellisville representatives at its convention held in New Orleans, La. in July. The PRIDE program beat out competitors from 17 states.
SEDC started the regional Community Economic Development Awards in 2006 to recognize outstanding communities for their efforts in advancing the economic viability of their area through economic and community development programs. Winners were named in four population categories: under 5,000; 5,001-40,000; 40,001-100,000; and 100,001 and above.
To be considered for the regional award, Ellisville first had to win its category in the Mississippi Economic Development Council (MEDC) competition. The MEDC presented city officials with the top award in June at its annual conference held in Biloxi.
Explaining its choice of Ellisville's PRIDE program over the other submissions, the SEDC praised the city for engaging its citizens in "the forward-thinking, proactive endeavor of making it one of the most progressive small cities in America while maintaining the qualities and values of small-town America."
PRIDE began in 2001, shortly after Tim Waldrup was elected to his first term as mayor of the small city (pop. 3,465 according to the 2000 U. S. Census).
Having lived in Ellisville for more than 30 years, Waldrup was concerned that the city was in a holding pattern, not necessarily moving backwards, but certainly not moving forward. "I envisioned a place that would retain its small town charm while becoming more energetic, enthusiastic and proactive about its economic future," said Waldrup.
With all this in mind, the mayor established volunteer ad hoc committees that addressed a number of issues and charted a course for Ellisville's climb back toward progress. Committees included Business, Downtown Renewal, Economic Development, Fire, Hospitality, Police, Incorporation, Infrastructure, Ordinances, Parks and Recreation, Beautification, Private Property, Senior Citizens, Signs and Urban Forestry.
The city's Board of Aldermen also recognized the need for improvement and revitalization and actively worked with the committees to set objectives for Ellisville. Once the committees had made their recommendations, city officials began the task of prioritizing the suggestions and working toward implementation of the goals.
"We have accomplished some of the goals we set nine years ago and we are still working on others," Waldrup said. "People expect change to occur within just a few months of their desire for change. However, it often takes several years to fully implement new programs and ideas."
Such has been the case with PRIDE. Although the CEDA was awarded based on physical improvements completed or underway during the 2009 calendar year, planning and implementation has taken several years.
"There were thousands of phone calls, hundreds of e-mails, dozens of letters and numerous face-to-face meetings with regional, state and national officials to get the ball rolling," Waldrup explained. "We also had the support of several constituencies, including the Jones County Board of Supervisors, Jones County Junior College and the Jones County Economic Development Authority, who were relentless in their pursuit of money and other resources that would help improve Ellisville and enhance the quality of life for our residents."
CEDA evaluation criteria included innovativeness, transferability, community commitment and leverage, measured objectives, and secondary benefits.
Five major projects were referenced as measured objectives in the city's submission to the award committee. Four – the new fire station, library, H. B. Bush access road, and water and sewer improvements – have been completed. Still in progress is the new multi-purpose center located next to the library.
Several of the projects offer secondary benefits beyond their obvious use. The multi-purpose center will serve to enhance library functions as participation at these events has far exceeded expectations. The multi-purpose center may also be used as an emergency shelter.
Improvements to the city's water and sewer system attracted several new businesses, which have located in Ellisville without fear of breakages and shortages.
New businesses that have opened in the Hill Street area include a dental office, two auto supply stores, a new convenience store and an expanded branch bank. Four other businesses have opened in the downtown area, creating approximately 35 new jobs.
In its evaluation of the award criteria, the SEDC praised the innovativeness of PRIDE saying it "captured the strengths of each partner to build further-reaching relationships", and it was "used as a motivational tool of pride that the citizens, elected officials and organizations felt toward the city."
Community commitment and leverage were evident in that almost all the grants for projects listed involved local participation, either in-kind or specific match funding. While the City of Ellisville provided more than $1.5 million for match monies, the Jones County Board of Supervisors, Mississippi Department of Transportation or the Economic Development Authority provided much of the in-kind work.
Ellisville secured major grant funds from the Mississippi Development Authority, the Rural Development Agency and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and other groups totaling more than $3.4 million.
Volunteer groups actively involved in these endeavors included the Friends of the Ellisville Public Library and the Fidelia Club. For example, fundraising efforts by the Friends of the Ellisville Public Library secured more than $70,000 in less than 30 days for the equipping and landscaping of the new library.
The SEDC committee noted that all of the programs Ellisville set into motion are available to be shared with other small communities interested in pursuing public improvements to enhance the community's quality of life.
"The sole component that cannot be shared without face-to-face communications," read the SEDC report, "is the excitement shown by various individuals involved in the process when they saw their plans become realities."
While pleased with the award, Waldrup explained this is only the beginning of a new era for Ellisville.
"As a city, we have accomplished a great deal during the past nine years," he said, "but we can't sit back and rest if we want to continue to progress. We're headed in the right direction and we plan to keep moving forward."
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