One Coast isn’t a new idea or about just one person or one city, Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said Tuesday as he collected the inaugural One Coast Ambassador Award at IP Casino Resort.
Hewes coined the phrase, but the One Coast logo is free and there are no meetings, he told the crowd of 400 people who came to honor him and his One Coast vision for uniting the three counties and 12 cities across South Mississippi.
“It is for all of us,” he said. “It really sets us apart in this region and I think in this nation.”
People who come to South Mississippi for fun or for economic development see the area as One Coast, he said. He challenged the audience, including several of the newly-elected mayors, “Let’s make sure our neighbors flourish” without each city giving up its individuality.
“You have to be the ambassadors,” he said as each person listened to his message and laughed as he said the differences between Gulfport and Biloxi go back to a long-ago football game. Then he talked trash and explained why One Coast doesn’t extend to Gulfport’s break with the Harrison County Utility Authority on a garbage collection contract.
“It’s been a difficult discussion to have,” he said. One Coast is not mayors promising to pay each others’ bills or subsidizing another city, he said, but finding things in common.
“You have robust discussion but you don’t have to make every disagreement a declaration of war,” he said.
Gov. Phil Bryant traveled from the Southern Legislative Conference in Biloxi Monday to the White House to talk about the future of healthcare with other governors. Then he came back to Biloxi to be at Tuesday’s ceremony for Hewes, who Bryant calls a “dear friend and my patriot in the Senate.” Bryant became a state representative in 1992, the same year Hewes became a state senator, and Bryant said fellow lawmakers “knew, expected and appreciated” that Hewes would be working to better the Coast.
Bryant remembered visiting the Coast as a child on a family vacation and finding “an amazing, exotic place.” This trip he noticed that ground has been broken on the aquarium in Gulfport and recalled when there was a parking lot across from the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino.
“Bless his heart. He thinks he’s going to get a baseball team,” Bryant said was the reaction of many people, and now the Biloxi Shuckers are South Mississippi’s team.
The governor said he loves the surprise when he brings organizations like the Southern Legislative Conference to South Mississippi.
“They have no idea of what this coast of ours looks like,” he said, or that 70 percent of the Navy’s warships are built at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula. When American astronauts journey to Mars, he said they first will go through rocket testing at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.
“When this Coast comes together, when this is One Coast, it is the most remarkable place in America,” he said.
Rich Westfall, vice president of business development and marketing at Charter Bank and a board member for Visit MS Gulf Coast, conceived the idea of a One Coast Ambassador Award and organized Tuesday’s breakfast to advance the idea.
It took unanimous consent of officials across South Mississippi to create and fund a regional tourism commission. Tourism is one of the few industries to see growth over the last few years, he said, and close to achieving its goals for 2020.
“And folks, that’s regionalism at its finest,” Westfall said.
He also saluted the Coast casino industry on the 25th anniversary of the opening of Isle of Capri in Biloxi. He was a part of that opening of Mississippi’s first casino and said, “What we have today is a collection of some of the best casino resorts in the country.”