“Even though we are over an hour away from the Gulf Coast, we probably had 75% of our buildings damaged by Katrina. We also had about 20,000 refugees here after the storm and still have about 14,000 of them living here,” commented Annie McMillan of the Area Development Partnership of Hattiesburg, MS (population 44,779), as we were on a tour of the city along with Dr. Argile Smith of William Carey University, which brought me in for a couple of talks.
William Carey University had a satellite campus in Gulfport, MS that I drove by on my tour of that area when I was on the Gulf Coast shortly after Katrina. It was completely devastated, even though it was on one of the highest spots on the coast. William Carey is not going to rebuild in Gulfport because of the dramatic increase in insurance costs. However, their main campus in Hattiesburg is in the midst of a building boom as their enrollment increases.
Hattiesburg proactively decided about 10 years ago to try to attract affluent retirees to the community. McMillan explained, “We received designation as a Certified Retirement Community, signed up a number of Retirement Connectors, who are trained to help new retirees become acclimated to the community, and already we have over 1,000 new retirement households. In addition to retirees from Mississippi, we have a large group from Florida and also from places that get cold.”
Hattiesburg is going through a growth spurt as evidenced by the renovations going on in their downtown area, a push for more cultural activities and increasing retail presence. It’s a neat town with great potential