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Laurel, Mississippi gets national spotlight in Kansas City
Mickey Howley, North Mississippi Herald
Closing plenary sessions at conferences are usually not well attended. Especially if it is a big ole long conference like the National Main Street one. The conference this year had 1,600 Main Street folks from around the country meeting for three days in Kansas City. So, when I walked in a few minutes late to the general closing session, I figured I’d get an easy seat as all the closing sessions in the past were the usual 300 diehards. No easy seat this time. The room was jammed to the last row. I had to stand in the back like some wallflower. Why? Was it because there was a dynamic speaker or a brilliant new idea? Nope, none of that. The room was packed to back doors because everyone was listening to a Mississippi Main Street story of revival.
Laurel is one of those forgotten places in rural America, a place most people outside of Mississippi don’t know about. Or didn’t. Laurel’s story for the last decade has been one of making good and it is a town on the bounce back. For those of us here, in the Mississippi context of size, we might think Laurel is a decent size town. But at 18,000 people, in the big American picture, it’s a small place, in a medium size state, in the middle of the piney woods. In that respect, not unlike a thousand towns across the USA. 
A decade ago Laurel was like many small towns. Seemingly on the ropes. Losing much of its money to a larger town some 30 minutes away. Laurel’s great old homes were not worth much and many neglected, and with a downtown near empty, the place seemed bleak.  The town was not moving an inch forward, hardly a glimmer of hope, as the historic commercial district was virtually locked by the building owners still thinking their properties were worth a million. The nearby Interstate was just pulling the life from downtown. The train was still passing through, but not ever like it was. Young people were leaving there and not looking back. That was Laurel ten years ago, as a barely hanging on faded former glory of a place as there ever was.
That’s not the case now, in the last decade the Laurel Main Street program, with never say die director Judi Holifield, has completely flipped Laurel’s story. People are moving in. Young people are staying. Laurel now has a comeback downtown, with daytime business and night time life, and the surrounding residential area is making a solid return. The future looks bright. They’ve posted big economic numbers. Like 45 new businesses, 150 new jobs, 9.1 million dollars in private investment, and 28 downtown apartments. 
So, in Kansas City last week, all the people who are Main Street directors around the country were listening to Laurel’s young people tell of their success and how their story is told via “Home Town” on HGTV. The people in the room, my guess, were not so much interested in the TV show, but more the reason why early 30 somethings believed again in this Mississippi town. It was story worth standing up for.
For more information about Laurel's comeback story, visit

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Mississippi Main Street Association
P.O. Box 55747 | Jackson, MS 39296
Phone: 601/944-0113
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P.O. Box 445 | Columbus, MS 39703 | 662- 364-0435
426 Northpointe Lake Dr. | Oxford, MS 38655 | 601-941-5409
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