Business & Community Services

ASPIRE Mississippi

Aspire Mississippi is a leadership initiative designed to specifically for Mississippi economic development professionals and stakeholders. The program helps participants gain critical knowledge in community and economic development areas pertinent to their success and develop new methods and strategies to position their communities for success.

ASPIRE Mississippi


  • To help communities reach their potential by providing training and technical assistance to a broad-based, diverse team of existing and emerging leaders
  • To facilitate project-driven initiatives to improve community relations, enhance career pathways, build wealth and improve quality of life to make communities more attractive to industrial prospects, individuals, families, and visitors

Why Should My County Apply to Participate?

  • Participants gain critical knowledge in community and economic development areas pertinent to their success as local leaders, while strengthening relationships with their team members and counterparts across Mississippi.
  • Participants position themselves and their communities to create healthier, more vibrant places to live and work in today’s increasingly complex and competitive environment.
  • Participants better understand the services and resources available through MDA and remain integrally involved as key partners by supporting and assisting MDA in its mission to “foster a strong state economy and vibrant communities through innovation, use of talent and resources to improve our citizens’ lives.”

When does Aspire Mississippi begin?

  • Due to COVID-19, the Class of 2020 will extend into 2021. Please check back for further details or call 601-359-9333.

Neshoba County
Project: Clean Up and Beautification of Philadelphia and Surrounding County Areas
What began as a plan solely for Aspire Mississippi the team rapidly grew into a larger team of city and county participants. Under the leadership of David Vowell, executive director of the Community Development Foundation of Neshoba County, the following results have taken place:

• The abandoned Doctors Quarters (three buildings) on Indian Hospital Road were torn down and the site cleared
• A city building official has become involved and has been working on tearing down abandoned houses and clearing the sites within the city limits
• A city building official pushed a local business to clean up areas around his business for safety and beautification of the area
• Assisted in having a ditch near an existing business stabilized from erosion
• Worked with the city and East Central Community College on establishing phlebotomy, truck driving and small-engine repair classes in the former U.S. Motors Building
• As a result of the ditch stabilization project, the business is investing over $500 thousand in an expansion project, which includes a 100,000 square-foot facility adjoining their existing facility, and will add an additional 10 jobs.

Team Members
David Vowell, Team Leader
Kevin Cumberland
Harvin Hudson
Tammara Kennedy
Steve Murray
James Young

Lauderdale County
Project: Committee of 100

Because the City of Meridian and Lauderdale County border the State of Alabama—land many residents on both sides of the state line travel back forth to find employment and entertainment—the team wanted to create a process by which the region could come together to address issues that had an impact on everyone.

Through the Alliance for Growth, the Committee of 100 was formed and is made up of business leaders from a five-county area. They began to meet regularly to discuss common concerns and ways they could all benefit from the success of one another.

Since its formation in 2016, the Committee of 100 has achieved buy-in, resulting in pooling resources to hire a regional consultant and holding their first annual meeting. The work of the committee is also credited with assisting in the search and hiring of the new president of Meridian Community College – considered to be a major win for the region.

Team Members
Bill Hannah

Tunica County
Project: Strategic Plan for the Economic Development Organization

This team decided to develop a strategic plan for the future of economic development in Tunica County. Several of the new initiatives have been implemented.

Team Members Lyn Arnold, Team Leader
Cedric Burnett
James Dunn
Webster Franklin
Adrian McKay
Michael Johnson

Grenada County
Project: Local Manufacturing Videos for High School Students

Due to a lack of immediate employment after high school graduation, as well as a leakage of recent graduates seeking work outside the county, the Grenada team created a program to boost the hiring of recent graduates in Grenada County.

The team partnered with the Grenada Manufacturers Association and created a marketing campaign using informative and entertaining videos that were shown to students in the high school. The videos highlighted Grenada County manufacturers, who explained what they manufacture, including various aspects of the process and job-satisfaction. After exposure to the companies, students could join an internship program and, upon graduation, seek employment.

Team Members
Pablo Diaz, Team Leader
Billy Collins
Janie Mortimer
Slade Redwine
Darrell Robinson

Alcorn County
Project: Become an ACT Work Ready Community

Alcorn County knew the value in becoming an ACT Work Ready Community. They had meetings with other economic development directors and workforce experts in Mississippi and soon were engaged in the ACT requirements, which included attending classes in Nashville and testing high school students and other residents. Since their certification, more existing employers have become much more interested in the initiative.

Team Members
Gary Chandler, Team Leader
Nadara Cole
Tommy Irwin
Jason Marlar
Reece Terry

Warren County
Project: Open Old Mississippi River Bridge to Recreation

The team realized the Old Mississippi River Bridge could be an asset to the community and have endeavored to pedestrian and cyclist traffic to increase the quality of life in Vicksburg, as well as Madison Parish, Louisiana, and to create a tourist destination.

The team has encountered many obstacles, but over the course of many months, they have persisted. Resolutions have been obtained from the following entities-City of Vicksburg, the Warren County Board of Supervisors, which owns the bridge; the Warren County Bridge Commissioners, the Madison Parish Port Commission and the Village of Delta, Louisiana, all of which support of the project. They have also received a favorable opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office. Through all the hurdles, they remain optimistic their goal will be achieved.

Team Members
Annette Kirlin, Team Leader
Jane Flowers
Kim Hopkins
Hank McDevitt
Bill Seratt

Rankin County
Project: Sixteenth-section Land Trade

Rankin County saw a potential in swapping or selling 16th-section land in locations that were prime for commercial or industrial uses. After all, there was a similar swap of land in Hinds County that helped the Continental Tire project become a reality.

The team had conversations with the Mississippi Attorney General’s office and with other local entities. Now, the pump is primed to explore these opportunities in case the need arises.

Team Members
Tom Troxler, Team Leader
Freddie Bagley
Kyle Brown
Ray Morgigno
Bob Morrow
Pat Sullivan

Pearl River County
Project: Form an Economic Development Organization and Hire a Director

Though they have many first-class assets, Pearl River County has not had solid footing in the world of economic development because they have lacked an organization.

The team decided to form an economic development organization, adopt bylaws, appoint a board of directors, secure funding and hire an executive director. In the winter of 2019, they are in the interviewing process for a director, having completed most of their ancillary goals.

Team Members
Brenda Wells, Team Leader
Hudson Holliday
Malcolm Perry
Sandy Kane Smith
Byron Wells

Tate County
Project: Livability in Tate County

Tate County’s project involves several groups of people coming together on multiple levels to attract more families to the area and to enhance quality of life for the families that are already a part of Tate County.

The team’s leader, Jamie Sowell, returned to recommendations made in the Asset Mapping report, provided by MDA’s Asset Development Division in 2010, and made contacts with major players in the area and sold them all on getting involved to make improvements in the community.

Team Members Jamie Sowell, Team Leader
Jenny Hurt
Michele McCain
Matthew Raff
Tony Sandridge

Prentiss County
Project: Prentiss on the GRID

This team wanted to focus on career pathways for better employment opportunities for its citizens. The program, “Prentiss on the GRID,” highlights the careers available in modern manufacturing that differ greatly from manufacturing in the past.

The target audience is high school upperclassmen who will not pursue a four-year degree at a university, as well as the unemployed and underemployed. The goal is to help these young adults to a pathway that will lead to a career, not just a job, within the county. Local employers helped by providing a list of skillsets necessary to be successful. Prentiss County Development Association (PCDA), with extra support from the Board of Supervisors, has received funding for testing in all three school districts. Students in Baldwyn and Booneville have been tested.

After encouraging initial results, the team hopes to increase the number of students tested.

Team Members
Leon Hays, Team Leader
Trudy Featherston
David “Bubba” Pounds
Craig-Ellis Sasser
Lori Tucker

Monroe County
Project: Increase Homeownership in Monroe County

Team members in Monroe County experienced a downturn in the rates of homeownership, and they were determined to reverse the trend.

Since 2017, the local banks, working together, have held a workshop each spring and each autumn, and have seen the number of interested parties grow. Oftentimes, credit scores affect the likelihood of securing loans, and the banks provide counsel and help residents repair low scores, though this process can take a year of more. Of the approximately 65 people who have attended four workshops, two have closed on new homes, while others continue to work toward homeownership.

Team Members
Carter Naugher, Team Leader
John Allen
Bruce Childress
Joseph Richardson
Ken Smith
Tzer Nan “TZ” Waters

Washington County
Project: Create Videos about Washington County’s Workforce and Business Climate

The Washington County team’s project was to produce videos showcasing their assets and workforce training and availability. The workforce is already ACT-certified, so the well-produced videos have proven to be a great tool in the successful recruiting of several new industries and the expansion of existing industries.

Team Members
Cary Karlson, Team Leader
Lisa Bush
William Coppage
Carl McGee
Stephanie Patton
Errick D. Simmons

Winston County
Project: Access Road from Company to Highway

A major manufacturer needed better access to and from their plant, which would result in more goods being shipped and would negate the need for large trucks to rumble through downtown Louisville. The team assembled stakeholders from the manufacturer, city and county government, MDOT and citizens to develop a process whereby all impacted entities would have a voice in what was needed. The team has completed engineering plans and has secured title to all the property in the area needed for the access road.

The community received $500 thousand from a recent special session of the legislature from the BP settlement. Whereas the project has a price tag of approximately $2 million, the team is working to utilize current funds to get the project going. Progress is being made, and the task force remains optimistic the project will create more interest from partners to secure the additional funding.

Team Members
Glen Haab, Team Leader
Kyle Curran
Will Hill
Amy Hillyer
Wilson Webb

Clarke County
Project: Convert Downtown Brownfields into Commercial and Residential Development

The project was a cooperative effort among schools, churches, residents of the city and county working together under a planning grant from Smart Growth America to develop an old lumberyard and a mobile-home park near downtown Quitman. The plan included changing the 45-acres property from industrial to commercial and residential. The team met with a landscape architect, whose plan included five acres of commercial recreation, several acres of commercial properties, open areas for festivals, as well as new home construction.

The team worked with Representative William Shirley to submit a request for a bond of $750,000 to build a main road through the property, which will allow them to develop smaller areas at lower costs to investors. Currently, they have secured the services of Dr. Jake Gines of Mississippi State University to help create pre-fab homes, between 1,400 and 2,000 square feet, to be built from cross-laminated timber. Some say construction of this type is stronger than any other known residential buildings and will answer the needs from areas that lack skilled carpenters. It is something that Clarke County’s new Mohegan Renewable Energy is interested in. The success of this plan will have far-reaching effects in the building industry, and, they hope, put Quitman at the forefront of new home construction to go along with their 1G Fiber Speed.

These plans also call for a three- to four-story library, which will be contiguous to this development (Quitman Village), on land donated by a caring person who served on the committee to plan for the community’s future.

Team Members
Eddie Fulton, Team Leader
Edward Kramer
Mickey Long

Pike County
Projects: ACT Work Ready Community and Polishing Pike County

The Pike County Ambassador team led by Jill Busby, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development District, has undertaken a multi-goal project for their program.

Their first goal, which they are currently working towards, is becoming an ACT Work Ready Community. Their second goal is to form a coalition of local organizations to identify and improve blighted property within the community, an initiative they branded as “Polishing Pike County.” They are steadily fulfilling their ACT goal.

Team Members
Jill Busby, Team Leader
Brandon Frazier
Jacqueline B. Martin
Wes Nunnery
Catherine Sanders
Wendy Smith

Marion County
Project: Entrepreneurship Classes

The team believed there was a dearth of entrepreneurs and new business openings in Marion County, and their data suggested the community could support more businesses.

Their solution was to provide classes in entrepreneurism. They hired a successful serial entrepreneur from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Twenty-one students attended up to eight sessions of the class. One new boutique opened, one vacant building was filled; five new jobs were created; several new business plans were completed, and downtown buildings are being renovated or rehabilitated. In addition, existing business owners learned new skills and new business techniques.

Team Members
Lori Watts, Team Leader
Rene Dungan
Nik Ingram
Donovan McComb
Justin McKenzie
Calvin Newsom

Stone County
Project: Assessment of the High School’s Physical Needs

The Stone County team addressed the need for new high school facilities. They held two community focus group sessions, met with members of the Stone County School District leadership and their consultant. The purpose was to gain feedback from the community and consider how to create a grass-roots effort of support.

There is broad support for the creation of a new campus for the high school. It was determined, however, that the funding capacity of the school district is inadequate. Priority was then given to identifying the availability of additional funding sources. The School Board of Trustees is looking for land.

The MDA Ambassadors team has concluded their role in the process, and the team believes the process was beneficial to citizens of Stone County.

Team Members
Betsy M. Rowell, Team Leader
Kalie Taylor Kirkland
Joel Miles
Scott Strickland
Ladd Taylor
Arnie Williams

Marshall County
Project: WOKE

Marshall County’s Aspire project is focused on developing training for high school students in soft skills to help them find and keep a job. The program is called WOKE, an “urban” word that means “aware.” This term is used to appeal to students who are not college-bound. In addition to soft skills, Marshall County is focusing on life skills such as balancing a checkbook and learning to change oil in a car. Marshall County has buy-in from local manufacturers and has received approval from local school boards. They are deciding on a location(s) and arranging transportation needs for the students.

Team Members
Wanda Christian, Team Leader
Anita Barnett
Zack Beasley
Billy Gray
Justin Hall
Jake Michel
Terry Moore
Christy Owens

Webster County
Project: YES

Webster County’s Aspire team chose to focus on community member gains by providing high school students with improved job and workforce training skills with Project YES (Youth Empowerment Skills). Project YES is designed to give high school students personal and professional development skills. Through student-mentor sessions, the students will be taught soft skills. In the first session, a baseline of work skillset knowledge will be determined, and by the close of the sessions, the students should have garnered enough information to complete post-tests. Some of the areas of focus will include: resume writing, knowledge of employment opportunities in Webster County and in contiguous counties, salary components and how to locate and apply for jobs in the county.

Team Members
Lara Bowman, Team Leader
Lamar Dumas
Michael Kolb
Kelly Powell
Lisa Stewart
Melissa Vaughan
Chad Winter

Choctaw County
Project: Track on Over to Ackerman

This Aspire project targets an increase in business revenue in the town of Ackerman. Team members are devoting efforts to capitalize on tourists and visitors who visit Choctaw Lake, Little Mountain, French Camp, and travel the Natchez Trace. The goal is to attract and engage visitors by encouraging them to shop and dine in Ackerman. Another draw for the project is to facilitate a welcoming committee to support the mountain bike race at Choctaw Lake over Labor Day weekend. The 2017 event drew cyclists from six states. The committee will provide 500 welcome packets to this year’s visitors and detail unique amenities in Ackerman. Additionally, a digital campaign has been created for the project: #TrackonOvertoAckerman and website:

Team Members
Lara Bowman, Team Leader
Juliette Ashford
Glen Blaine
Tim Cutts
Deanie Graves
Juli Hughes
Mitzi Lawrence
Amanda McBride
Donna McKay

Attala County
Project: It’s Worth It

Attala County realized some of their young adults had a need to learn soft skills, which matter when entering the workforce. The team has been working with the Career Technical Center in Kosciusko and has developed a series of 30 to 45-minute classes called “It’s Worth It.” Each session of the seven-week course focuses on one soft skill with a short video, activities and reasoning on why the skill is important, as well as incentives to make each session an interactive discussion. In the first session, they conduct mock interviews to see how well students respond. At the end of the program, they will provide a final interview to see who has gained the most knowledge and reward the student with the highest marks.

The sessions include the following topics:
Session 1 – Overview of Program/What Are Soft Skills?
Session 2 – Communication
Session 3 – Enthusiasm and Attitude
Session 4 – Teamwork
Session 5 – Networking
Session 6 – Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Session 7 – Professionalism

Team Members
Darren Milner, Team Leader
Taylor Casey
Justin Develin
Lauren Moore
Amy Terrell
Curtis Turnbo
Allison Tyler

Simpson County
Project: Create Your Own Shadow

Simpson County’s Aspire team decided to focus on soft skills, as they relate to employability among high school students. The project, “Create Your Own Shadow,” is a job-shadowing and placement program that will result in improved job and work skills for 30 participants, with a minimum of 10 of the students earning an internship/employment.

The team, with support from the local business community, will conduct a series of trainings and workshops with Simpson County students to introduce them to the basic skills needed to secure employment in the area. This effort will also include gaining internships and full-time employment at the completion of the program.

Team Members
Donnie Caughman, Team Leader
Dale Berry
Todd Booth
Evelyn Copeland
Lacy Evans
Dewayne Middleton
Cemper Scott
Malory Yelverton

Covington County
Project: Workforce Training!

Since education is a key driver for better and more jobs, the Covington County Aspire Mississippi team determined that improved job and work skills training for 10th-grade students in all county schools was essential. The importance of “soft skills” training would increase students’ business and entrepreneurship training and create more opportunities for Covington County youth.

The team worked with the Covington County School Board and Families First for Mississippi, breaking the training into two segments during which they focused on

  • Importance of Soft Skills
  • Resume Writing
  • Communication
  • Enthusiasm and Attitude
  • Teamwork
  • Networking
  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • Professionalism
  • Dressing for Success

Team Members
Marie Shoemake, Team Leader
Guy Easterling
Amy Evans
Delilah Hudson
Arthur Keys
Mayor Hope Magee-Jones
Lester Magee
John Price

Lawrence County
Project: Whirl on the Pearl

To increase recreational activity and tourism in Lawrence County, the team created a fun event around one of their natural resources—the Pearl River, which runs adjacent to Monticello, the county seat. “Whirl on the Pearl” highlights fun on the river by offering airboat rides, with interesting facts about the naturally occurring features, as well as history surrounding the river and Lawrence County. The date was set for November 9, 2019, but after heavy rains and subsequent flooding, the date was changed to June of 2020.

Team Members
Dave Nichols, Team Leader
Jennifer Fields
Rusty O’Neal
Jeff Quin
Leigh Ann Reeves
Kenzie Steverson
Jay Thompson
Desean Toler
Corey Wooten
Mayor Martha Watts

Panola County
Project: Made in Panola

Panola County’s team uncovered an industry need and created “Made in Panola,” a county-wide job fair for 340 participating students from North Delta School, and North Panola and South Panola high schools. The job fair was held in September and featured a session called “Necessary Skills” to learn life skills that are important in the workplace.

The students also met with 38 employers and organizations from Panola County to learn about employment, internships, and apprenticeships, as well as representatives from various branches of the military.

Made in Panola will occur again in September 2020.

Team Members
Joe Azar, Team Leader
Cole Flint
David Karr
Diane Merrill
Dan McNulty
Teddy Morrow
Lakeldra Pride
Ryan Revere

Sharkey County
Project: Deep Delta W.O.R.K.S.
(Workforce Opportunities through Resources, Knowledge, and Skills)

The Sharkey County team created an opportunity for ninth- through 12th-grade students from three schools—South Delta High School, Sharkey Issaquena Academy, Deer Creek School—to learn more about employment opportunities in the area and the education necessary to pursue the occupation. Students also attended a class on interview skills, personal presentation, and learned about careers in the finance industry.

Team Members
Meg Cooper, Team Leader
Emily Carter
Steven Cooper
Adrian Dorsey
Sam Grayson
Mayor Fred Miller
Ashton Sandifer
Melissa Thomas
Beverly Wilson

Walthall County
Project: Four Star Square

The goal of the Walthall County team is to make Centennial Square more attractive and cultivate an atmosphere conducive to shopping and dining. The plan includes physical enhancements, education and awareness, and the creation of activities and events to engender a livelier downtown community.

Team Members
Pam Keaton, Team Leader
Oliver Bates
Ryan Bruhl
Richard Hay
Mark Holmes
Kyle Johnson
Janice McKellar
Chad Parish

Holmes County

Sunflower County

Claiborne County