Main and Mulberry Podcast – Hunter Harrington, Greater Starkville Development Partnership

There’s so much happening in Starkville, Mississippi that we couldn’t cover it all in just one interview! Hunter Harrington, Director of Membership Development for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, joins us to paint a picture of the local flavor, from shops and businesses to community events. We love Starkville and think you will too!

Transcript:

AB: Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of Main and Mulberry. I’m Anna Bell, and today I’m really excited to have with us, the Director of Membership Development for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership in Starkville, Mississippi, Hunter Harrington. Hunter, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. 

HH: Thank you so much, Anna. That is a mouthful. I’m so impressed that you got all of that. 

AB: More commonly referred to as the partnership right? 

HH:C Yes. So we recently, I think about two years ago, we kind of rebranded. It was kind of a mouthful, Greater Starkville Development Partnership. So we’re, we’re kind of known now as, the Partnership. So we’ve got a really nice little logo that encompasses what we’re about and, the Partnership is what we’re called. 

AB: Awesome. And kind of tell us, for those of us who have not yet had the opportunity to come visit you in Starkville, tell us exactly where you’re located in the state of Mississippi. 

HH: Yeah. so the partnership is located in downtown Starkville. So we’re located at 200 East Main Street. We want to be right in the heart of everything, in downtown Starkville. We have a bunch of vibrant stores and restaurants. And so we felt like we needed to be right in the middle of the community. In the past we were located outside of main street and all of the organizations were separate. So the Chamber was kind of separate from the Partnership. But about 20 years ago, we combined everything. So we’re the Chamber of Commerce, we are the start Main Street Association, we’re Economic Development. And what am I missing? Main street, economic development. 

AB: All under one roof? 

HH: Yes. And Convention & Visitors Bureau.

AB: Yes. And you’re all working in tandem with each other. That’s wonderful. 

HH: Yes. We’re all working in tandem. We’re all working for the same mission and that’s to better Starkville, better the community, and just support these local businesses here and get people to travel here as well. 

AB: That’s really cool. I love hearing that because, not every, you know, area is able to work in, like we said, in tandem with one another like that, but having you all under one roof, that’s really awesome. Hunter, maybe you can really kick things off for us, by telling us how you guys, the Partnership, are actively involved in the community with the Starkville area, you know, with the Chamber of Commerce. 

HH: Yeah so the Chamber of Commerce, we have about 580 businesses that are part of the Chamber. And we have everything from individual members that are retirees to restaurants, retail. We have a ton of hotels cause you know, we’re home to Mississippi State University and so our hotels house visitors and fans that are traveling to the games. And so we also have, you know some staples downtown, like the Starkville Cafe and it’s been around for awhile. And so you can come and get breakfast at this Starkville Cafe or a lunch. And then we have other restaurants like Restaurant Tyler. It’s a very nice upscale restaurant that we love having downtown. And then we have local boutiques takes like, LA Green. She’s actually franchised. And so she has multiple locations now throughout the South. But like I said, it’s a women’s boutique. And then we have a flower shop downtown. We have a couple of flowers shops downtown. We actually have kind of expanded our downtown footprint and we have a place called Midtown and we have Orange Theory located in Midtown. We have a really awesome coffee shop called Strange Brew. I was actually there this morning, but it’s got a great vibe. And then if you keep going towards campus, I know this is a long answer to your question, but if you keep going towards campus, we have the Cotton District. And so it was an old cotton mill area. And so we converted that area into huge residential area and restaurants and stores. And so we’ve kind of connected this whole area from Main street to Midtown to the cotton district and then you go on campus. So… 

AB: So, Hunter, I kind of want to break that down into three different groups. So we started initially talking about the Chamber and how many members you have. Can you kind of tell us a little bit more about the Chamber and their activity, you know, in the community and we’re all those that you listed there, were all of those members of the chamber? Chamber businesses? 

HH: Yes we do. And so we have..One of the things that we do, of course, when you join the chamber is we do ribbon cuttings. And so for new businesses that come into town, we actively recruit them to be a member of the chamber and invest in their business community and the community as a whole. So we do the ribbon cutting. And then we send pictures, you know, to the various media outlets, the papers and online said, everybody knows that that businesses here I’ll put that. And we’re also the welcome center. So we put all of their information like brochures and coupons in the welcome center. And then Paige Watson, who I think you talked to a couple of days ago, she is our special events and projects coordinator. And so she an E-View, a newsletter every Tuesday, so the members can connect and stay in the know of what’s going on every Tuesday and they can put information about if they have specials or discounts. 

AB: It sounds like you’re saying the Chamber works very closely with its members helping increase that exposure within the Starkville area to get visitors and locals. 

HH: Yes, for sure. And then also we have a very good town and gown relationship. And so we work a little bit… 

AB: Can you explain that a little bit? What is that? 

HH: I didn’t really know what that was too when I started, but it’s, it’s, we call it town and gown with the city of Starkville and the partnership working really closely with Mississippi State. And so I think Paige mentioned this, but when the students are back, our town kind of doubles. And so we want to make sure that those students are eating in our restaurants and shopping in our stores. And so we do two things that I love that we do with them. We do freshmen welcome bags. And so all the freshmen on campus are given a welcome bag with area business information. And it just kinda tells us about what’s going on in the area. And then we also do faculty. So for new faculty that are moving in, we tell them maybe some real estate companies that could work with or… 

AB: Help them get acquainted with the area? 

HH: Right, right. Yeah. How to get acquainted and to kind of make Starkville they’re home. 

AB: And so another piece that you were speaking about earlier, we’re kind of a different niches, you know, the different sections of, of Starkville. Can you kind of break that down again for me. You’ve got your downtown, I heard you mentioned the Cotton District, those areas down for us… 

HH: Yeah. So main street, I would say that’s like what you typically think of a main street. You’ve got small businesses restaurants I’m looking out right now at main streets are, like I said, our office is right on main street. 

AB: What kind of businesses are right in that area with you? 

HH: So kind of book ending, may we have a bookstore? So a local bookstore. So, which I love because it’s been around for awhile and there’s like ice cream in the back. And so kids, when they get out of school, they go get an ice cream and it just, you know, it’s kind of a little in community. On the other side, we have a huge furniture and office supplies store called Sullivan. That’s been around for, for a very long time as well. And so they supply furniture to the college and to other area businesses. And then we actually have like your areas as a kind of a charming little area kind of maybe yes, very historic. We actually got a new restaurant across the street called. Arepas, it’s Venezuelan. So it’s coffee and they also have a bar there. 

AB: How fun. 

HH: And then Midtown, like I said, that’s more the modern look it’s got it’s kind of a mixed use building. So on the bottom you have the restaurants and the stores and then on top you have apartments. Okay. That’s really cool. So a little bit younger, a little bit fresher on that. So that’s where we have the Orange Theory. So they can, literally residents that are living in, in Midtown, can literally come down and have a place to work out and have a coffee shop right there. And there’s a, they take right there as well. So, and then the Cotton District, like I said, we got a new barbecue restaurant called Two Brothers. It’s a two story building. So students can kind of have outdoor seating and locals and visitors can have outdoor seating. And then we have staples like BIN 612, and other amazing restaurants. We’ve got some really good local spots here. 

AB: That’s great. You know, being a college town, I’m sure that energy, of all the students, when they come in and – you said that you double in size. 

HH: Yes. 

AB: That has to be contagious into your businesses..everybody I bet..I’d be willing to bet, just kind of livens it up! I would love for you to kind of talk about being a college town and how that really, how that really affects the local economy. 

HH:  So we’re over 20,000… between I think 23, 24,000 right now. And so when students come back to school in the fall, again, that’s another 20 ish. And then when you add on a football game weekend, I mean our football capacity, it’s like 50,000. I believe I told you, and I’m not very good with statistics, so all this is rough, but you can just kind of tell right there that, I mean, we have football game weekends, our retailers say it’s like Christmas season for seven weeks! I mean, it is so much fun, the energy and we have Maroon Friday’s on Friday. And so all of our boutiques and restaurants bind to that, everybody’s wearing maroon. I actually used to work in athletics and I cheered at Mississippi state. So it’s just, I can’t go on and on about the school spirit and how the community pulls together, but it is a wonderful place to live and visit and say, yeah, that’s one of the main things that people love, I think is the energy that surrounds Starkville. 

AB: Absolutely. Do we know, you know, how many local businesses there are in Starkville? You know, as our listeners know Main and Mulberry is all about local and what it sounds like is that Starkville is a big, local town. 

HH: Well, it has grown a lot since I was in school. I went to school at Mississippi State and graduated. I’m not going to tell my age, but I graduated a couple years ago. And we only had, I mean, we had some boutiques and some restaurants, but I mean, I’m telling you, it has a literally grown so much. And we have just been on an upward trajectory. And so, yes, we have, we have got so many businesses here in fast. 580 members in the Chamber. It’s only growing every year. And so when we do get, you know, local businesses that open, they really do bind to the community and they wanted to see Starkville grow. And we really do cheer for each other and root for each other. The retail community works together. I mean, I know they’re all in competition, but that’s another thing that I’ve seen with the chambers. We have retail meetings where they get together and brainstorm. We have our restaurants get together, so they are in competition, but they all work together. So that, I think that helps the growth, really the community as a whole. 

AB: Absolutely, absolutely. Well Hunter, we’ve got to talk about the elephant in the room, the COVID-19 pandemic, because it’s forced all of us to adapt in many ways. How has the Partnership in particular and, and the Starkville Chamber of Commerce now, how have you guys pivoted during this time? 

HH: So when we initially kind of started hearing about the coronavirus, you know, I felt like it, wasn’t going to say us and here, but then quickly you could say that everything was starting to move very quickly and shut down. And so we started a campaign support start role. And so we wanted to be a great resource for the community to know what services these restaurants, restaurants and store owners, were providing. So we kept an updated list of hours and hours that changed. And if people were doing pickup or curbside we wanted to let all of our community know what was still available and capacity limitations, and also, you know, here right from our local hospital. And so we really tried to be on the front lines of getting good information out there and being that voice for the business community. 

AB: The locals really appreciated that resource. 

HH: Yeah. Yeah. I think that it was very well received. And then also our CEO, Mike Tagert, he was the previous Transportation Commissioner and so he was able to be very helpful and a big resource to our business owners. Cause he knows a lot about grant opportunities and the PPPs. And so we, we held workshops for our businesses and we were just wanting to make sure they were getting the funding that was being available for them. So we also held workshops for, you know, businesses cause a lot of our businesses do rely on that foot traffic. And so helping them adapt as far as diversifying their revenue streams. So they didn’t have, you know, an online store or social shopping. We wanted to equip them with those tolls to be able to reach people outside of foot traffic. So yeah, that’s, that’s one of the big areas that we’ve been trying to focus on. And now just just focusing on, you know, how we move forward with football and we’re not really sure about capacity and all of that. So we’re just trying to be supportive to the business community and still get people to come visit. But safely people are… 

AB: It’s still one foot in front of the other, isn’t it? Every day is new day of what are we going to do now? Right. The biggest word of the year, pivot, when I talk to all of these different small businesses and you know, influential businesses, that’s the word we keep using. We’re just, every day trying to figure out what, what the next thing to do is… 

HH: And I think that, you know, a big thing is just adapting. Like you’ve got to you, it’s so easy to get stuck in your ways and stuck in your routine and stuck in the things that work. But I think all of this has challenged us to really get out of our comfort zone and adapt. And I think hopefully you can kind of see, you know, maybe there’s some practices that we’ve started that are better than what we thought, you know, so anyway… 

AB:  I was curious to ask you about, you know, kinda your role at the partnership. You know, what maybe what has been one of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in the last few months and, and what have you learned kind of in particular with your role? 

HH:  I think what a good biggest… Yeah I feel like I’m on a job interview. The, one of the toughest hurdles, I feel like it’s not being able to do that face to face and networking. I am not, you know, tech savvy at all. So just having to learn to adapt in my own ways learn how to zoom, learn how to you know, do group me and all kinds of stuff. I was never big on Instagram and I’m trying to Instagram more because, you know, I feel like everybody is like social media is where it’s like that now… 

AB: Find out how are you going to reach people now? Because we can’t reach out and shake each other’s hand right now. Right? You’ve got to get creative. 

HH: With the chamber, we would have monthly business after hours and networking events. And so we’ve had to get creative ourselves on how we keep the business community connected. And yeah, I think online is still… 

AB: How have the three parts of the Partnership, the Main Street, Economic Development and the Chamber. Have you guys, you know, really worked together during this time, maybe even more so than previous times? 

HH:  Yeah. Well, I mean, we always worked together very closely just because we’re such a small staff. And with the Convention and Visitors Bureau to be in here we it’s a team around here. So like we were saying what works for the small business community is good for, you know, people that are coming in and visiting. We want everybody working hand in hand Main Street as part of their business community. And so we’ve just had to really support each other and work together as a team. And I think that that’s made us stronger. Yeah. 

AB: It’s a very symbiotic relationship. Isn’t it? When you guys are helping get that exposure to those small businesses, you’re getting more people to come in. 

HH: Right. 

AB: Kind of works together, doesn’t it? 

HH: It really does. 

AB: That’s great. Kind of, as we wrap things up Hunter, maybe what is one of your favorite places or things to do in Starkville that you might share with us as we all try to maybe plan a visit to come down and see you? 

HH: Oh my goodness.. Um I’m a big like coffee shop person. We have, like I said, I went to Strange Brew this morning, but I’ll also we, there’s another local coffee shop called 929 Coffee. And it’s really, really cool in there, and they’ve got like, the wall is old cake pans. Like it’s like a cake, it looks like pans, it looks like wallpaper, but it’s actually cake pans. So just a really cool vibe and said, I think just starting out at a coffee shop and then just walking along Main Street and just looking at all the businesses and having a good lunch, like I said, Restaurant, Tyler’s great. They have something called Barbecued Okra, and I’m not a huge okra fan, but it’s like fried Okra. Right. And then I have this comeback sauce that you can dip it in. So that’s pretty good. 

AB: Oh you’re making my mouth water. Oh my goodness. 

HH: That’s good. And then what else? I mean the Cotton District, like I said, is a fun place to sit outside. I think everybody’s sitting outside right now and maybe with it getting cooled off a little bit. That’s definitely fun too. 

AB: You know, Hunter, you’re mentioning a lot of things to do. One of the things I’ve failed to ask you, is about, you know, your events. The partnership hosts a lot of the events. And with the coronavirus, a lot of things got postponed now, but with the kids back in the school, what, what’s the plan for your local events that would be upcoming? 

HH: Yeah, so we are having an event next Tuesday, I believe the third, the second get swept up. So it’s a community wide trash pickup event. And so that’s a great event that you can do socially distance. So we have, I think like 500 people that are participating and so they get a free tee shirt. They get you know, gloves in a bag, so it’s all safe and we’ll have the radio here in the morning and free, free breakfast. And so it’s a good come together community event. 

AB: I was just thinking that’s a good way for those that are new coming into school and the locals to kind of get to know each other, all working towards a good goal of cleaning up, up the town. 

HH: Right. And then I know our Maroon Volunteer Center, our volunteer center on campus, they got out and volunteered this past weekend with local businesses and organizations. So just a lot of volunteering going on and just seeing how we can help each other. And yeah, I mean, we’re still, we’re still hosting little things like ones. We do that throughout the year. So we, you can buy tickets, buy tickets and we’ll give you a wine glass for the partnership and you can go to area businesses and each business has a different wine pairing, but we’re not doing the food right now. But yeah said when they were kind of thinking through what we’re going to do with football season still, we’ve got a couple of things in the works. So stay tuned and maybe you can come visit and you can see what’s going on now. 

AB: You’ve got me wanting to plan my visit! Well, Hunter, we sincerely appreciate your time and your insight today kind of giving us a picture of the local grind with all the businesses in Starkville, Mississippi. So just thank you so much for your time. If one of our listeners today is wanting to learn a little bit more information Hunter, where, where should they go to find more information? 

HH: So starkville.org. You can, we have all of our businesses and restaurants listed out by categories. So say you wanted to stay in a hotel. He could find a hotel by clicking on that category. And then you could figure out what restaurant depending on your palette, but we’ve got plenty of options and we’d love to have you in Starkville. I think you’ll be greeted with open arms or elbows and give high fives. But yeah, we would love to have you. We love Starkville and I think you will too! 

AB: Awesome. Well Hunter, thank you so much for your time. We really do appreciate it. 

HH: Thank you, Anna. 

AB: All right guys. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Main and Mulberry. Until next time. I’m Anna Bell. 

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