Mississippi is home to a wealth of historic and natural resources that have the potential to attract visitors and boost local economies. However, many of these communities lack the high-speed Internet connectivity or the skills needed to take full advantage of the technology that tourists are increasingly demanding and that local businesses need. To bridge this gap, the Mississippi Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) has launched a Rural Development Initiative to establish 27 Virtual Access Centers (VACs) across the state. The MSBDC's VACs are designed to provide access to resources and services that can help build attractive communities for business.
Through Community Asset Development and Incentives teams, the MSBDC works to identify key areas of opportunity for success and connect organizations and companies with appropriate resources. The MSBDC also offers several development programs to businesses in Mississippi, helping them become pillars of trust in their communities. Ben Shappley, vice president of satellite campuses at Northeast Mississippi Community College and director of its Ripley campus, said that virtual centers will allow campuses to better serve their local communities and “help anyone who dreams of starting their own business.” ASPIRE Mississippi is another program that bridges the gap between local business leaders, economic developers, stakeholders and the communities they are part of. To further support Mississippi's veteran communities, Connect Mississippi has funded a series of interviews with key informants. These interviews have identified key strategies, techniques and examples of how broadband technology has helped create successful rural tourism initiatives in West Point, Water Valley, Columbus and Ocean Springs. Funding is being requested for extension specialists, educational technology specialists, videographers and trips for volunteers in order to create a certification program in tourism technology. This program will help equip Mississippi's communities with the skills they need to take full advantage of their potential.