BILOXI, Miss. -- Hurricane Katrina recovery is like putting together a car, one part at a time so it's a moving, synchronized machine. Hancock County is getting put back together that way, piece by piece. The economy is the steering wheel that will guide this storm-torn county off the assembly line on to new roads, new directions.
The local stakeholders - business and property owners - have served as designers and drivers of their hurricane recovery. For assistance, they often seek expertise and funding from federal and state governments and nonprofit agencies.
FEMA's Long Term Community Recovery staff works with local leaders behind the scenes. They offer analysis on economic needs and possibilities and guidance in requesting Community Development Block Grants from the state. They also assist local governments and organizations with obtaining recovery funds from other sources for a variety of projects.
"We looked at all the proposed projects that are vital to long term recovery and saw that most were in downtown areas," said FEMA's Long Term Community Recovery Section Chief Bob Haywood. "And everyone benefits when downtowns are rebuilt."
In 2007, the Hancock Chamber began working with local governments and the Mississippi Main Street Association to explore how Hancock County could establish a countywide program. Main Street, funded through the Mississippi Development Authority, is an economic development program based in historic preservation and part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Hancock County program was launched in late 2007. First on the agenda was to retain a national resource team to work with local volunteers and officials to devise a countywide plan. The new team provided free business and design consultations for downtown local retail store, restaurant and property owners and managers.
"Hancock County has done an excellent job of tapping into a variety of funding sources," said MEMA Director Mike Womack. "The county will have a solid economic future because it has coordinated well with businesses and governments."
Rebuilding downtowns involves maintaining and attracting businesses and growing jobs. In Bay St. Louis and Waveland it also involves maintaining historical integrity, its charm, which is why partnership with MMSA is so important.
"We knew that in order to be successful, we would need to hire a full-time director to manage the program," said Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock Chamber.
Williams said it took close to a year to build grass roots support for Main Street and to raise funds to launch the program. In November 2008, Main Street Director Sherri Bevis was hired. Under the direction of Bevis, the volunteer board identified 10 goals to focus on during 2009.
Drumming up business has been a predicted rollercoaster ride. In these tough times some doors have closed but many others have opened. In April and May, five small businesses opened on Bay St. Louis' Main Street creating new jobs, sparking optimism.
"Our infrastructure is nearing completion, Bevis said. "When the private sector sees these developments, it will fuel more private investment."
Two initiatives that may soon be implemented to attract pre-Katrina businesses are a CDBG-funded revolving loan program with a jobs generating provision that addresses the areas in Hancock County most economically damaged by the hurricane and a Waveland business incubator program.
"We are helping move these projects forward by facilitating discussion, doing background research and providing policy and programming guidance as communities that have never done anything like this try to start new recovery-focused programs in a very compressed time frame," said FEMA Long Term Recovery Specialist Natacha Vacroux.
Hancock County's growing business is testimony to its leadership and commitment of government and non-profit...