Fall into Jones


While the weather may be cooling down just a touch now that fall has arrived, things are really starting to heat up in Jones County with lots of family friendly activities to enjoy throughout the season. From October through mid-December, there’s not a week that goes by that doesn’t have a fun event scheduled. Many are free and all are open to the public. Here’s a look at some of the events and activities on the calendar for this fall in Jones County.

If you have an event to share, please e-mail the information to Amanda Roll, amandar@edajones.com.



Oct. 1-Nov. 11: Lauren Rogers Museum of ArtDaVinci’s Machines Exhibit

This traveling exhibit brings the innovations and genius of Leonardo DaVinci to life with more than 75 inventions reconstructed from his illustrations and writings. Guests will encounter and test these amazing inventions form flying machines and war weapons to diving gear and a self-propelled car. This is an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to touch, handle and gain a first-hand appreciation for how they work. Admission to the LRMA is always is free, and offers Sunday hours of 1-4 p.m. in addition to being open 10 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. INFO: 601-649-6374 or www.lrma.org.


Oct. 1-26: Jones College Eula Bass Lewis Art Gallery – Thomas Jackson Painting Exhibit

The first of this year’s art exhibits at Jones College in Ellisville features the works of Thomas Jackson. Admission is free. Gallery hours are: Monday-Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and Friday, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. INFO: Thomas Jackson Painting Exhibit


Oct. 4-7: Carpenter Brothers Emporium of Wonderful Whatnots

Located in downtown Ellisville, the Emporium is an occasional market that is typically open the first full weekend (Thursday-Sunday) of each month. Designed with the unique in mind, shoppers can browse through all kinds of whatnots and antiques, as well as hand-crafted and homegrown products such as soaps and candles. INFO: 601-580-7429 or Carpenter Brothers Facebook Page.


Oct. 6: Loblolly Festival

Held annually on the first Saturday in October, The Loblolly Festival celebrates Laurel’s heritage as a sawmill town. Vendors from several states, artists, crafters and craftsmen set up shop in the streets of downtown Laurel for this one-day event. Live music can be heard throughout the day, and the 2018 music lineup includes:

9:00 a.m. – Laurel Music Lessons
10:15 a.m. – Lloyd “Hurrican” Munn & the Forecasters
12:05 p.m. – Midnight Revel
1:55 p.m. – John Milham and The Inner Mission Band
3:45 p.m. – Young Valley

Food ranges from funnel cake to corn dogs to chicken on a stick and every variety of festival food imaginable. Lovable lumberjack, Mr. Loblolly, visits with the crowd and will stop for a photo op, too! Demonstrations vary from year to year, but crowd favorite Dayton Scoggins, the chainsaw artist, will be on hand for this year selling his creations as well as demonstrating the art of chainsaw sculpture. INFO: 601-433-3255 or www.laurelmainstreet.com. Also helpful hints to “know before you go” HERE.


Oct. 6: LRMA – Heritage Arts Festival

A free, annual family event, the theme for this year’s festival is Celebrating DaVinci’s Era of the Renaissance. Activities include hands-on art projects and features medieval re-enactors, as well as swords and armor created by Scott Wilson of Darkwood Armory. Hours are 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and free pizza and soft drinks will be served at 11:30 a.m. INFO: 601-649-6374 or www.lrma.org.



Oct. 12-20: South Mississippi Fair

Click image for full concert schedule

One of the largest fairs in the state, the South Mississippi Fair is nine fun-filled days of rides, concerts, exhibits and shows. Concerts in the Magnolia Center include country artist William Michael Morgan, Tuesday at 8 p.m. and classic Southern rockers Molly Hatchet, Thursday at 8 p.m. Some of the concerts scheduled for the Midway Stage are Motown/soul/pop cover band Compozitionz, Friday at 11 p.m., and the unique stylings of Galen Martin, Saturday at 7 p.m. General admission is $5. Children under 48” tall are free. Parking is free. Unlimited rides from 1-3 p.m. daily are $30 per person and 3 p.m.-close. INFO: 601-649-9010 or www.southmsfair.com.



Oct. 13: Phillips Drive-In Reunion

Since 1948, folks have been able to grab homemade burgers, shakes, fries and onion rings at Phillips Drive-In, known by locals as PDI’s. 2018 marks PDI’s 70th year in business, and what better way to celebrate than at the 8th Annual PDI Reunion? As if the food and live music weren’t enough reason to attend, the classic car and motorcycle show adds another whole level of fun to the festivities. Hanging out is free. Registration fee for cars and bikes is $20 and begins at 5 p.m. All proceeds go the Mississippi Baptist Children’s Home and Hellfighters/Mission at the Cross of Laurel. First, second and third place trophies will be awarded in ten classes. Reunion hours are 5-11 p.m. Be there or be square! INFO: Contact event coordinator Ken Keyes at ken54@gmail.com or click HERE for more information.



Oct. 19: ‘Make Something Good Today’ Book Tour Stop at the Laurel Mercantile

Ben and Erin Napier will celebrate the release of their first book, Make Something Good Today, during a 10-stop book tour in October. They will make their way back to their “Home Town” of Laurel on Friday, October 19 to host a book signing at their store the Laurel Mercantile from 5:30-7:30 p.m.




Oct. 15-19: Lunch at the Fair

Tired of the same old lunch routine? Then grab your friends and head over to the fair grounds to enjoy lunch at one or more of the many food vendors. The fairgrounds will open for lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday.



Oct. 18-21: The Rusty Chandelier

If it’s the third Thursday-Sunday of the month, then it’s time for The Rusty Chandelier occasional market. Located just off Carroll Gartin Blvd. in Laurel. The Rusty Chandelier has thousands of treasures, from antiques to jewelry to clothing and lots of things in between. Hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2-5 p.m. on Sunday. INFO:  www.rustychandelier.netor 601-649-4050.



Oct. 25: Shop 16th Fall Festival

Come enjoy an evening of food, games, live music and fun as we celebrate all things fall on 16thAvenue in Laurel. Hours are 3-7 p.m. in the parking lot of Rubies Home Furnishings. All attendees will receive coupon cards and discounts to the 16thAvenue shops. Admission is free. INFO: www.shop16th.com or 769-218-9867.



Oct. 28: LRMA Music of the Middle Ages

The Madrigal Singers of Jones College will present a concert of music from the Middle Ages in the American Gallery at 3 p.m. This event is free. INFO: 601-649-6374 or www.lrma.org.


Oct. 27: Cotton Gin Market at Rasberry Greene

Vendors from all over Mississippi and the South come together deep in the Piney Woods for a showcase of curated craftsmen, artisans, makers, purveyors of vintage and antique goods, delicious southern food and the sounds of South Mississippi. Rasberry Greene is an event venue located a few miles outside Soso. Market hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. INFO: 769-208-3802 or www.rasberrygreene.com


Oct. 30: Jones College Treats in the Streets

With its festival-like atmosphere, this Halloween tradition attracts thousands of children ages 12 and under and their parents to the campus of Jones College in Ellisville. Campus clubs and organizations decorate booths and have numerous activities for the children, including a costume contest. Hours are 5-7:30 p.m. Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. INFO: 601-477-4845



Nov. 1-4: Carpenter Brothers Emporium of Wonderful Whatnots

Located in downtown Ellisville, the Emporium is an occasional market that is typically open the first full weekend (Thursday-Sunday) of each month. Designed with the unique in mind, shoppers can browse through all kinds of whatnots and antiques, as well as hand-crafted and homegrown products such as soaps and candles. INFO: 601-580-7429 or Carpenter Brothers Facebook Page.


Nov. 1-11: LRMA DaVinci’s Machines

If November arrives and you still haven’t checked out DaVinci’s Machines at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, there is still time becasue the exhibit doesn’t end until November 11. Admission to the LRMA is always is free, and offers Sunday hours of 1-4PM in addition to being open 10AM-4:45PM Tuesday-Saturday. INFO: 601-649-6374 or www.lrma.org.


Nov. 3: Ellis Fest

Introducing the first ever Powhatan Ellis Festival (Ellis Fest for short) in Downtown Ellisville hosted by The Ellisville Downtown Merchants Guild with special help from many Ellisville service organizations. The festival will feature local musicians, music exhibition, a talent competition, art competition, merchants, vendors, food, and so much more! Hours will be 9AM-6:30PM. Bring your lawn chairs and enjoy a whole day of fun. Sponsorships and Vendor spots are available too. INFO: www.ellisfest.com.


Nov. 3: 4th Annual Moselle Memorial Baptist Church CAR, TRUCK, and RAT ROD SHOW

Car, Truck, and Rat Rod Show with Show and Shine Antique Tractor Displayat Moselle Memorial Baptist Church (6 Beeson Road/Highway 11, Moselle). There will be live music and plenty of food.   Registration begins at 9:00 A.M. and Ends at 11:00 A.M. Thirteen trophies will be given away; five for pre-1990, five for post-1990, and three for Best in Show. Awards will be given at 2:00 P.M. Entry fee is $20 per entry. Entry fee includes a free picture of Entry. Goody Bags and Door Prizes will also be given away. INFO: Please call 601-580-5550. Spectator admission is FREE.


Nov. 5-Dec. 5: Jones College Eula Bass Lewis Art Gallery – Charlie Mabry Ceramic Sculpture Exhibit

The year’s second show spotlights with ceramic work of Charlie Mabry. Admission is free. Gallery hours are: Monday-Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and Friday, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. The college will be closed Nov. 19-23 for Thanksgiving Break. INFO: Charlie Mabry Exhibit.


Nov. 15-18: The Rusty Chandelier

If it’s the third Thursday-Sunday of the month, then it’s time for The Rusty Chandelier occasional market. Located just off Carroll Gartin Blvd. in Laurel. The Rusty Chandelier has thousands of treasures, from antiques to jewelry to clothing and lots of things in between. Hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2-5 p.m. on Sunday. INFO:  www.rustychandelier.netor 601-649-4050.


Nov. 24-25: Christmas at the Village at Landrum’s County

One of South Mississipi’s favorite ways to kick off the holiday season! Landrum’s 35th annual Christmas at the Village is an old-fashioned Christmas celebration that’s fun for the whole family. Attendees will enjoy food from the Smokehouse, funnel cakes, photos with Santa Claus, hand-made craft vendors, civil war re-enactments, farm animals, gem mining, and LOTS of live entertainment. Stop by the General Store to listen to Bobby Hathorn pickin’ his banjo, grab some kettle korn, and take a wagon ride through our beautiful nature trails. The thousands of twinkling Christmas lights are sure to bring on the holiday cheer. Hours: Saturday 11/24 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 11/25 12-8 p.m. INFO: Additional details available HERE.

Nov. 24: Shop Small Saturday

Be sure to mark this on your calendar as a day to shop local and support small businesses. Local business owners throughout Jones County will be open and many will have seasonal specials just waiting to be discovered.



Nov. 29: Jones College – “A Jingle Jazz Christmas” Benefit Concert

Held annually, this event showcases the talents of the Jones Jazz Band and JC Voices. In lieu of a ticket, Jones Fine Arts Department requests that people bring one new unwrapped toy for the Salvation Army’s “Angel Tree” program as admission to the concert. Showtime is 7 p.m. in the M. P. Bush Fine Arts Auditorium on the Jones Campus. INFO: 601-477-4095, 601-477-4024 or HERE.


Nov. 29-Dec. 2: The Rusty Chandelier

This weekend is the annual holiday special opening for one of Jones County’s premier occassional market. Hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2-5 p.m. on Sunday. INFO:  www.rustychandelier.netor 601-649-4050.


Nov. 30-Dec. 1: Market Beautiful

Laurel will once again host Market Beautiful! Come and kick off the Christmas season with Erin & Ben Napier from HGTV’s Home Town. There will be vintage shopping, food, drinks, kids’ activities, workshops, an on-stage talk with Erin & Ben followed by a meet-and-greet and a chance to get a copy of their new book signed. Hours are Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.  Tickets are $10. INFO: The Market Beautiful Facebook Page.



Dec. 1: Christmas Parades in Laurel & Ellisville

When the cannon sounds at 10 a.m. it signals the start of the Laurel Sertoma Club Christmas Parade. Billed as the largest in the state, it winds its way from Sawmill Square Mall through downtown Laurel with floats, beauty queens, marching bands and much, much more. Then, at 2 p.m., the Ellisville Christmas Parade rolls from Jones College through downtown Ellisville. Bring your lawn chairs to both and enjoy!



Dec. 1: Kiwanis Pancake Day

A Laurel tradition that coincides with the Christmas Parade, Kiwanis Pancake day is all-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage. Everybody sees everybody and a great time is had by all. Tickets are $5 in advance or $6 at the door. Dining locations are the YWCO in downtown Laurel and First Baptist Church.



Dec. 2-3: Jones College Concert Choir Christmas Concert – First Baptist Church, Laurel

An evening of Christmas music presented by the JC Concert Choir will put you in a good mood for the holiday season. Concert begins at 6 p.m. both nights. Admission is free. INFO: 601-477-4803 or HERE.



Dec. 4: Jones College Small Ensembles Winter Concert

This free event showcases several small instrumental ensembles from the Jones Concert Band. The concert begins at 7 p.m. in the M. P. Bush Fine Arts Auditorium on the Jones Campus. INFO: 601-477-4843 or HERE.



Dec. 6-9: The Rusty Chandelier

Hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2-5 p.m. on Sunday. INFO: www.rustychandelier.net or 601-649-4050.



Dec. 6-9: Carpenter Brothers Emporium of Wonderful Whatnots

Located in downtown Ellisville, the Emporium is an occasional market that is typically open the first full weekend (Thursday-Sunday) of each month. Designed with the unique in mind, shoppers can browse through all kinds of whatnots and antiques, as well as hand-crafted and homegrown products such as soaps and candles. NFO: 601-580-7429.


Digital Marketing Lunch and Learn Recap and Videos

Chamber of Commerce Hosts Digital Marketing Lunch & Learn

May 24, 2018 – “Prioritizing Your Digital Presence” presented by Tyler Raborn, Raborn Media

Nearly 100 Chamber members attended the second quarter Lunch & Learn on May 24 that was held at Life Church. Tyler Raborn, CEO of Raborn Media presented tools and tips for digital marketing for the Chamber’s business members.

Not every community is lucky enough to receive national recognition from a popular television show. This coupled with growth in industry and professional services, businesses across our community have more eyes on them than ever before thanks to this growing interest in Jones County merchants, jobs and services. Tyler provided the audience with practical approaches to improving their brand’s online presence through search engines, social media, content creation and more.

Follow the Chamber’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) and event calendar for announcements of future Lunch & Learns!

The Chamber would also like to thank Life Church for being our host location and for their video production services.

More About the Speaker – Tyler Raborn:
Tyler Raborn is the founder and CEO of Raborn Media, L.L.C, a full-service marketing firm. During his time at Raborn Media, Tyler has married creativity with cost efficiency to produce a ROI-centered culture. Through branding, budgeting, consulting, graphic design, website development, video production, digital advertising, traditional advertising, social media, and more, Raborn has helped a variety of businesses and nonprofits not only achieve, but surpass, their goals.

What are Lunch & Learns?:
A NEW series of Chamber hosted,  quarterly seminars that will feature expert speakers presenting timely topics on which all business can relate. Whether it be HR issues or the next trend in social media, Lunch & Learns will provide a local resource for education to activate growth for Jones County businesses. FREE for members to attend*, there will be ample networking time to meet with a cross-section of Chamber members and Jones County professionals.

Missed the Lunch & Learn?

View the clips by topic below from Tyler’s presentation.


New Brick & Mortar and Claiming Your Brand


Call to Action


ROI for Your Time


Organic vs. Paid Reach


Promoting Your Brand With Video


Targeting & Display Ads


Wrap Up – The Growth of Video & Free Resources


Q&A – Part 1


Q&A – Part 2


By: Rebecca Patrick

            LAUREL – Spring is a season that inspires people to refresh and renew, to clean up and spruce up. With that in mind, the Jones County Chamber of Commerce is offering its members an opportunity to do just that with its new Community Development Grant Program.
            The purpose of the grant is to encourage existing business owners/tenants to upgrade their buildings for public safety and accessibility for persons with disabilities. Grants may also be used to enhance building exteriors and improve the overall appearance of a facility.
            “There are various programs like this throughout the state, and the Chamber thought this was something we could do to help our members,” explained Ross Tucker, president and CEO of the Jones County Chamber of Commerce. “By reinvesting in them and their improvement efforts, all of Jones County benefits. This is a win-win program, and we are excited to offer this to our Chamber members.”
            The grants for this year are available through September 30. All applicants will be awarded on a first-come-first-served basis. They are structured to be 50/50 reimbursable matches for amounts not to exceed $1,000.
To qualify, applicants must be current members in good standing with the Jones County Chamber of Commerce and the building must be located in Jones County.
Applicants must have a current business license and operate a retail business, restaurant, service company or office and employ fewer than 50 people. If the applicant is not the building owner, written permission, signed and notarized, must be obtained from the building owner.
Applicants must comply with all state and local laws and regulations pertaining to licensing and permits associated with the improvements.
Applying for the grant gives the Economic Development Authority of Jones County staff permission to visit the business for evaluation. The application must be approved by the Chamber’s grant committee whose decision will be final.
Grant recipients must provide before and after photographs documenting the grant expenditures. These photographs will be provided to the Chamber and may be used without restriction to promote the grant program. Recipients must wait 365 days before applying to the program again.
To be considered, applicants must complete the Community Development Grant Program Application in its entirety. The application is available online at the Jones County Chamber of Commerce’s website.
Applications should then be submitted to the Jones County Chamber of Commerce either by email to rosst@edajones.com or by U. S. Mail to P. O. Box 527, Laurel, MS  39440.


By: Rebecca Patrick

            LAUREL – In a country where, according to “Forbes” magazine, only about 25 percent of small businesses make it past their 15th anniversary, it’s a pretty big achievement when one makes it past the half-century mark.
            With that statistic in mind, Today’s Furniture in downtown Laurel is approaching its 51st anniversary, no small feat for a store that employs fewer than ten people. Husband and wife team of Kline and Dawn Allred Estess are the second generation co-owners of Today’s Furniture. Dawn Estess believes adhering to her parents’ advice has been the key to the store’s success.
            “We have always treated everyone the same, with respect and dignity,” she explained. “God created everyone equal. That’s the way my mom and dad did business and that’s the way we continue to do business.”
            Dawn Estess’ parents, Ken and Jackie Allred, opened their furniture store in its first location, Heidelberg, in 1966 with a $3000 loan.
“There was lots of hard work, blood, sweat and tears involved in getting that store going,” Dawn Estess said.
As with many family-owned businesses, the children often tagged along to work with their parents. Dawn and her sister were no exceptions.
            “I remember, as a child, riding my tricycle around the store (in Heidelberg),” she recalled with a smile. “The store was in an old, old building that had a big pot-bellied stove in the middle to heat it.”
            In 1989, the Allreds opened their Laurel store in addition to the one in Heidelberg. In 1993, they closed the Heidelberg store to concentrate on Laurel. Over the years, Today’s Furniture has been housed in several locations. With each new move, the business expanded. The current location on Leontyne Price Boulevard boasts one of the largest furniture showrooms in the area at nearly 24,000 square feet.
            “One of the things a lot of people don’t know about our building is that it used to be a bowling alley,” Dawn Estess said.
            Helping people create a home where they can relax and get away from the pressures of their work gives the Estesses great satisfaction.
            “I remember a man who taught school and worked for mom and dad in the afternoons buying furniture from my parents,” Dawn Estess said. “That was 45 years ago and he’s still buying furniture from us.”
            “I don’t think any of us ever expected, 50 years later, to be dealing with the third and fourth generations of the store’s original customers,” added Kline Estess.
            The Estesses worked alongside the Allreds for many years. Ken, who passed away earlier this year, and Jackie got to see their grandsons play and eventually work part time in the store. While working together as a family has many positive aspects, Dawn Estess said that there is at least one common misperception.
            “People think when you own your own business you just hire people to do everything,” she laughed. “That’s definitely not the case. In a small business, you do a little bit of everything. You can’t just shut the store to go to your kid’s ballgame. It does limit what you can just go and do.”
            With their eyes toward the future, the Estesses are looking forward to having many more years in the furniture business. Among the commitments they have made with regards to their inventory is to use sources that are as local as possible or made in the USA.
“Almost all of our upholstery items and half of our bedroom (furniture) are made in Mississippi or Alabama,” said Dawn Estess.
“And we also carry the Ashley and Lazy Boy brands, both of which are made in Mississippi,” Kline Estess added.
The Estesses are also excited about the City of Laurel’s plans for beautifying and expanding Leontyne Price Boulevard. In conjunction with the city’s plans, they plan to do a little sprucing up of their storefront as well.
“The exterior of our store is very deceptive, we hear that almost every day,” Kline Estess said. “From the outside, (people) have no idea it’s got nearly 24,000 square feet of furniture. The store is very plain on the outside, but, with the new road coming through, we have plans to (work on the exterior). However, until we know how close the road is going to be to our building, we have to wait on that.”
In the meantime, the Estesses look forward to doing what they feel they do best.
“We try to offer a wide selection of home furnishings in a wide variety of styles and price points, from starter homes to the home of your dreams,” Dawn Estess said. “That’s what we plan to keep on doing. And, we will continue to treat everyone like we want to be treated, just like my parents taught me.”


By: Rebecca Patrick

LAUREL, MISSISSIPPI – Unless someone in Jones County has been living under a rock for the past several months, it is hard to escape the excitement that has surrounded the first season of HGTV’s “Home Town.” For those who may have missed all the hype, the television show is filmed in and around Laurel and features Ben and Erin Napier, along with other local craftsmen and businesses, as they renovate and restore neglected properties around town. One of the highest rated HGTV series this season, “Home Town” has been renewed for a second season.

Unlike the hometowns of some of its television predecessors, such as “Fixer Upper” set in Waco, Texas and “Duck Dynasty,” in West Monroe, Louisiana, Jones County has had the benefit of hindsight to help prepare the area for increased interest in the area as a tourist destination.

The Jones County Chamber of Commerce is trying to learn from the experiences of its sister cities by being proactive when it comes to tourism.

“Basically, we are taking on a tourism initiative as a component of the Chamber and EDA,” explained Larkin Simpson, vice president of the Chamber. “We have established a promotions committee with a tourism subcommittee to work on making sure we take full advantage of the all the positive publicity ‘Home Town’ has generated for our area.”

During the recent “Home Town” finale night, the Chamber invited local and regional media outlets to send representatives for a mini tour of Laurel. Beginning at Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, reporters were treated to dinner and a driving tour of Laurel’s historic district.

“We wanted to host this event for our locals to get a taste of what it is like being a tourist in our own backyard,” explained Simpson. “Many times our local media cover events and get stories, but they aren’t always an integral part of the story. Through our Chamber, tourism committee and community organizations, we have all worked together to craft a message of hospitality and openness to incoming visitors. We wanted our local media to experience that, as well as write about it, so other local residents, store owners and patrons would get a sense of pride in where we live. We want to put our best foot forward and this is one of the best ways we know how.”

During the driving tour, George Bassi, executive director of Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, served as the guide and pointed out several historic homes of interest, including some that had been renovated during the first season of “Home Town.” Although Bassi sees the impact of tourism everyday with guests at the museum, he believes most people are unaware of this component to economic development.

“We wanted to let our media know that tourism is alive and well in Jones County,” said Bassi, who also chairs the Chamber’s tourism sub-committee. “‘Home Town’ has created a broader awareness of tourism in our community, but most Jones County residents probably don’t realize that tourism is an industry for our area. We have had tourists on a daily basis visit us for years, but now that number is swelling and we need to educate our local citizens on tourism.”

Local media who had representatives take the tour included The Chronicle, The Impact, The Leader-Call, Blakeney Communications and WDAM and WHPM television stations.

“We want our local media and residents to understand the role tourism plays in Jones County’s economy,” said Ryan Griffin, marketing director of The Impact and chairman of the Chamber’s promotions committee. “In the future, we plan to host media events that span the southeast United States region to showcase all Jones County has to offer. Because of our unique history, amenities and current features like ‘Home Town,’ Jones County is a tourist destination.”

Also participating in the media tour was Scott Speakes, publisher of “okra.” a new regional magazine based in Cleveland, Mississippi. With an emphasis on “real Southern culture” across 13 states, “okra.” is a bimonthly magazine that debuted in May. The first issue featured food culture, while the second issue, available July 11, will include an article on the Napiers, Laurel and “Home Town.”

Having already done the interviews and photo shoots in February for the upcoming article, Speakes wanted to take the media tour and enjoy the “Home Town” season finale party as a wrap up to the story.

“I think that the exposure that the state is getting from the show is great,” Speakes said “Even though Laurel is getting a lot of the attention, the whole state in general is (benefitting). People are going to come in, stay and visit all over the state.”

Speakes added that people visit Mississippi for many different reasons, but often discover other exciting things about the state that they didn’t know before coming.

“Like in the Delta, we get tons of tourists for the Blues Trail, from Clarksdale to Cleveland to Dockery,” he said. “We get a lot of Europeans and people from all over the country. (Jones County) is going to be a part of that, too. People who are fans of the show are going to want to come down and see (where it takes place).”

During the time between “Home Town” seasons, Chamber officials believe, as Speakes mentioned, that there will be an uptick in visitors coming to Jones County. Although they are looking for a small-town experience, many will be pleased to learn that they can get a little high tech assistance to make their stay more enjoyable.

“Tourists are always looking for an experience,” Bassi said. “They want to walk the streets, see historic houses and sites, shop in quaint, local stores and eat in local restaurants. Most of our tourists want to have an experience. One new feature that the Chamber of Commerce and a team from Leadership Jones County helped develop this spring is a new phone app that allows visitors and locals alike to search for restaurants, attractions, places to stay and shopping.”

The app to which Bassi referred, “Visit Jones,” is free and works with smartphones and iPhones. Sections users can select are eat, play, shop, stay, events, and discover.

“It’s funny, people come to Laurel-Jones County for all sorts of different reasons,” Simpson said. “There isn’t just one thing that attracts them. It’s really cool when you talk to someone who comes for the ‘“where is that?’ and you respond, ‘well, it’s right up the road here.’ Shopping to leisure, to sports and outdoor recreation, to history and art. Whatever brings people here, they leave with so much more than they thought they were coming for. I believe the app will help our visitors realize that Laurel-Jones County offers them a lot more than what they initially came for.”

A few challenges come with promoting any area as a tourist destination. The first is educating local citizens.

“That can mean everything from hospitality training to picking up litter to making sure that local residents are knowledgeable about our tourist attractions,” Bassi said. “We must put our best foot forward because social media and word of mouth can kill our reputation if tourists have one bad encounter.”

The second challenge is making Jones County a destination, not just a side stop.

“Our goal is to hopefully have visitors spend the night and spend money locally,” Bassi said. “We have seen an influx of day-trippers who stop off the interstate for a few hours and now we need to expand their time in Jones County and let them know the many aspects of our community.”

Simpson said that now is a special time in Jones County.

“There is energy in this town, it seems, from those who have lived their whole lives here to those who have just stepped off the Crescent City line,” he said. “When you come to Laurel-Jones County, we want you to know you are coming somewhere special. We want you to know you are coming home.”

EDA, Chamber revamp ahead of ‘Home Town’ premier

By Rebecca Patrick

In just a few short days, the national spotlight will shine on Laurel and Jones County as HGTV’s newest series, “Home Town,” premiers Tuesday, March 21, at 9 p.m. Hosted by Ben and Erin Napier, the show’s pilot episode last year drew more than one million viewers, prompting HGTV to put a full season of shows into production.

To celebrate “Home Town’s” premier, the Jones County Chamber of Commerce will host “Meet the New Chamber,” a town hall block party, March 21, from 6:30 until 9 p.m. on Oak Street and Magnolia in downtown Laurel. If it rains, the event will be in the Laurel Train Depot.

“We are encouraging everyone to come out, take a stroll under the lights and enjoy the shops and restaurants,” said Larkin Simpson, vice president of the Jones County Chamber of Commerce. “There will be live music and food vendors leading right up to the time ‘Home Town’ airs.”

With “Meet the New Chamber” as evening’s theme, the Chamber and Economic Development Authority are using “Home Town” excitement as an opportunity to introduce their revamped components and respective roles in the community. Focusing on the goals of visibility, credibility, advocacy and education, the more clearly defined roles should allow the entities to better serve the community.

“We’ve always had the assets in place,” said Ross Tucker, president of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County. “Now, we are putting ourselves in a position to better serve them.”

Directing its attention toward small/medium business development, retail attraction, membership investment and tourism, the Chamber hopes to further expand membership and benefits.

“The newly reorganized Chamber is comprised of diverse, focused, energetic individuals in our county that represent their organizations with the highest regard,” said Alicia Walker of Sanderson Farms who serves as Chamber chair. “The Chamber is the largest pro-business advocate in our community. Our plan is to offer members-only perks, exclusive advertising opportunities and networking exposure for members. Our group is ecstatic to see the continued growth of our community.”

A new initiative the Chamber offers is the Community Development Grant Program. Awarded on a first-come-first-served basis, these grants are designed as a 50/50 match for amounts not to exceed $1,000. The purpose of this new program is to encourage existing property owners and tenants to upgrade their buildings for public safety and accessibility for disabled persons. Grants can also be used to enhance building exteriors and improve the overall appearance of a facility.

Concentrating its efforts on large industrial recruitment, existing industry support, government affairs and asset development, the EDA wants to place more emphasis on the Chamber.

“The Chamber is the voice of local business,” said EDA chair Jim Rasberry of Rasberry Financial Services. “We are so lucky to have the economic diversity and job offerings that we have here in Jones County. We at the EDA took stock of that recently and realized it’s time to focus on our homegrown businesses. We have been so fortunate to be home to the pioneers and innovators of so many industries and it’s time we celebrate that.”

Rasberry added that the EDA will continue to make attracting new businesses a priority and will work in partnership with the Chamber to help those businesses grow that already call Jones County home.

The third and newest component is the Community Development Foundation, which is designed to assist with health and public safety initiatives, leadership development and broad community development.

George Bassi, director of the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and chair of the CDF, explained that the CDF’s formation provides the Jones County EDA and Chamber of Commerce with a new 501(c)3 nonprofit partner that will be the conduit for tax-deductible contributions to assist the Jones County community.

“The CDF’s primary role will be as the fundraising arm of Leadership Jones County and Future Leaders of Jones County,” he said. “Both of these leadership programs provide critical financial assistance and valuable volunteer service hours through community-wide projects each year. Additionally, the Foundation will hopefully facilitate a variety of community initiatives bringing together partners with similar interests to not only meet the needs of Jones County, but make Jones County a better place to live, expand a company or start a business.”

Tucker believes that this revamping of Jones County Chamber and EDA is vital to being ready for the anticipated uptick in interest in Jones County and will position the community to take advantage of the situation economically. He pointed to Waco, Tex., as a prime example of the importance of being prepared for what happens to a community if a television series becomes a hit.

When HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” took the nation by storm in 2013, the town of Waco, Texas, was not prepared for the resulting influx of visitors. Before the hit television show, Waco was best known as the home of Baylor University and not a place most considered to be a typical “tourist destination.” Now, however, all that has changed.

In 2016, Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of “Fixer Upper,” opened Magnolia Market at the Silos. On average, Magnolia Market attracts about 2,000 visitors weekly. However, with Spring Break season starting, those numbers could soar even higher.

According to an article published in “The Waco Tribune” recently, the Magnolia Market’s economic impact is pretty impressive. Carla Pendergraft, marketing director for Waco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that in March 2015, before Magnolia Market moved downtown, 86,000 people visited local attractions. In March 2016, after Magnolia Market opened, that number increased to 195,259. That was a huge increase in the already astounding 134,957 February 2016 numbers.

“As a frequent traveler to Waco, I have seen first-hand how ‘Fixer Upper’ has been a driving force in the area and cannot wait to see what windows of opportunity open for us as a result of ‘Home Town,’” said Walker.

Could something similar happen in Laurel? Despite more than a year separating the airing of the pilot episode and the series premier, interest in the show has remained high. Nearly 22,000 people are fans of “Home Town’s” Facebook page. On Instagram, Erin Napier has 36,000 followers, while Ben Napier has 21,000 and Laurel Mercantile has 25,000. Several of those fans have already come for a visit.

With the recent opening of the Napiers’ store, The Laurel Mercantile, as well as numerous new boutiques, restaurants and specialty stores, Jones County appears poised to offer many more reasons for tourists to drop in.

“We already have people who come to Jones County to visit our existing places like Lauren Rogers Museum, Landrum’s Country, Bok Homa Casino and The Deason House, all of which offer something unique to diverse groups of individuals,” Tucker said.

Now, as interest in “Home Town” gains traction, Tucker believes there will be people who want to see where the show is filmed and take in the places it features. When this happens, the Chamber can help point these guests to the existing attractions, thereby benefitting the entire community.

“At the Chamber and EDA, we want to help everyone be prepared for the good things we believe are about to come our way,” Tucker said. “If just one-tenth of those Waco numbers were to happen to us, that would be an incredible boost to our local economy.”


For most people, the very mention of the state of Mississippi associates adverse perceptions of ignorance and inferiority. Those people, of course, were not born and raised in the state of Mississippi as I was. If they had, they would know what I know- that Mississippi is a state of rich heritage and good ole’ southern hospitality. But most of all, it is the place I call home.

In recent months, the place I have called home for more than 40 years has been the topic of much national debate. Unlike most national debates, the discussion hasn’t surrounded a natural disaster, act of violence or political debacle. Instead, the national debate about Mississippi has centered around nothing more shocking than a cable television show and Matthew McConaughey.

Although McConaughey’s name is common chatter amidst hair salons and gossip magazines, he’s rarely the subject of association with, dare I say it, the state of Mississippi. But as Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a-changin’.”

In McConaughey’s latest and critically acclaimed role as Newton Knight in the Hollywood blockbuster, the Free State of Jones, he plays a disenchanted Confederate army deserter who organizes and leads a militia of deserters, runaway slaves and women in a rebellion against the local Confederacy in Jones County, Miss. Regardless of your political sympathies, the unbridled Civil War saga and account of Jones County history has generated plenty of national media hype and more than $20 million in the box office, ranking sixth in ticket sales during opening weekend, according to a recent Box Office Mojo report.

As if a big screen flick wasn’t enough to get the nation buzzing about an unheard of place called Jones County, the little town of Laurel, Miss. was smacked right on the map thanks to a good hammer, a few nails and a fresh coat of paint. HGTV’s newest hit home improvement show, Home Town, is earning national acclaim for big renovations in a small town. Using found materials and old textiles, Ben and Erin Napier are preserving the character of their quaint hometown of Laurel, Miss., one classic home at a time.

From colorful histories to historic homes, Jones County has a little something to offer for everyone. According to Mississippi Magazine’s Best of Mississippi list, a voter-based survey that details the best that Mississippi has to offer in 71 different categories, Jones County received a total of 19 awards and honorable mentions. This year, Jones County took home four top state-wide awards including Best Museum for the Lauren Roger’s Museum of Art, Best Antique Mall

for Southern Antiques, Best Park for Mason Park, and Best Mother of the Bride Boutique for Mimi’s Bridal and Formal Wear.

Jones County also received 15 honorable mentions, or M-Lister awards, including Best Downtown Area for downtown Laurel, Best Place to Live for the city of Laurel, Best Farmer’s Market for Laurel’s Main Street Farmer’s Market, Best New Restaurant for Blue Crab Grill, Best Breakfast for Vic’s Biscuits, Best Flea Market for the Rusty Chandelier, Best Performing Arts Venue for the Laurel Little Theatre, Best Reception Hall for The Gables Event Center and Catering, Best Bed and Breakfast for Wisteria Bed and Breakfast, Best Home Décor Store for Southern Antique Mall, Best Place to Find High-End Women’s Clothing for the Quarter Century, Best Place to Find Tweens and Teens Apparel for the Pink Anchor, Best Place for Pet Supplies and Grooming for Petsense, Best Catfish for Charlie’s Catfish and, finally, Best Southern Buffet for Estelle’s Southern Cuisine and Catering, where McConaughey himself was spotted dining during filming.

It’s easy to see why Jones County is Mississippi’s best kept secret, and has been for many years. If you would like to take a trip down to Mississippi or simply visit a new city in your home state, come stroll through the historic towns filmed in the Free State of Jones or HGTV’s Home Town. From the big screen to the small screen, Jones County’s got it covered. Grab breakfast at Vic’s Biscuits or go see a show at the Laurel Little Theatre, just make sure you come. We would love to show you around what we call our hometown.

Ross Tucker is President of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County, located in Laurel, Miss. Tucker has dedicated his entire career to the economic development of Mississippi’s best cities and counties. With more than 16 years of experience developing local communities, Tucker is recognized throughout the state as an expert on tourism and entrepreneurship.