GAUTIER Just inside Gautiers western city limits stands a Lowes Home Improvement store built only a few years ago. The store replaced a long-standing Lowes that was demolished to make way for the new. This is one of the positive signs of Gautiers recent business development. But mere yards away across Dolphin Drive, the Singing River Mall an eyesore as it exists today is proof of the progress still needed for a city hurt by economic stagnation.
The leadership and the community still have lots of questions about the future development of the Singing River Mall property, but we know that the Super Wal-Mart that is coming will bring much needed traffic and tax revenue to our city, said Gautier Business Association president Mollie Hillburn. The mall will begin demolition of the current structure in the near future to allow for the new construction of more than 150,000 square feet of retail space.
This, Hillburn added, is in addition to Keesler Federal Credit Unions new location on the outparcel on Dolphin Drive near Lowes and free-standing restaurants currently negotiating with the mall owners to be built on the property. Hillburn remains hopeful for the Singing River Mall property to be turned around in the future. The only question at this point, she said, is when.
The GBA under Hillburns leadership is working closely with Gautier City Manager Samantha Abell to continue to grow the city, in Hillburns words, smartly. The strategy is to provide affordable marketing opportunities to Gautiers small businesses and enhance the beauty of Gautiers streets in the hopes of encouraging economic growth.
Gautier has a 500-acre TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district, updated streetscapes and beautification projects including Autumn on the Bayou, and an active group of business leaders that are working together to develop new programs to enhance the business climate for existing businesses and entice new businesses to our area, Hillburn said.
While acknowledging that East Jackson County, especially the Gautier area, has historically lacked a strong retail center, Hillburn said that the GBA has created events that increase awareness and increase traffic to local businesses. One such event is the annual Scavenger Hunt held in September at the Gautier Business Association Expo.
Participants receive a map and must visit the businesses on it, getting their maps stamped for each one. Once completed, they are entered in a drawing for a grand prize of $1,000, $500 for second place, and $250 for third. The idea behind the expo is to provide local businesses a platform to present their products and services to the public in an informal, relaxed environment.
As you drive the streets of Gautier, you cannot help but notice several new small businesses opening, Hillburn said. Among these, she mentioned new womens clothing and accessories boutiques, coffee shops, outdoor and lifestyle retailers, as well as much more planned for the future. A community, Hillburn said, is dependent upon the services it provides families. She credits Gautiers public K-12 schools, upper education, and Parks and Recreation Department as a few of its attractive features.
In addition to the establishment of new youth sports leagues, the city recently acquired the Shepard State Park campground under the direction of Cultural Services Manager Keith Young for family-oriented activities and other purposes. Pascagoulas new leadership has been an inspiration to us as well, and we are excited about working together with them to draw more attention to East Jackson County, Hillburn added.
Gautiers second wind began with the GBAs founding in 2005 when a group of local business owners and community leaders came together to form an association that would focus on the needs of the small businesses in Gautier, including those that provide services to the Gautier MSA. Its goals are to address the challenges unique to the city of Gautier and its business owners and residents; provide the tools necessary for success through programs and resources that accelerate growth and profitability of the citys businesses; support aspiring local entrepreneurs and serve as their voice to the legislature and local government; and encourage leadership in the business community.
The GBA strives to be recognized as the premier professional organization for providing skills and solutions to all stages of businesses in Gautier and its MSA through educational workshops, executive roundtables and local meetings.
Hillburn became president in June after serving on the GBAs board for four years.
During this time, I have seen our city change its direction completely, Hillburn said. The partnership we enjoy with our new city manager has given the city a new face, a new future.
Gautier has had a growing number of businesses include it in their site search when expanding in recent years, including B&D Plastics and others in the final negotiation stages before construction.
However, the realization of Hillburns vision for the GBA and the Gautier area, is not yet complete.
The increased business activity has created a sense of excitement among our community, and as we have all seen over the years, activity attracts the attention needed to continue the momentum of success, Hillburn said.
When you visit Gautier, you will see the beginnings of revitalization; we are on the grow and are happy to be in control of this growth.