Grady Champion — Canton’s Bluesman

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The article below was commissioned by and published in The Canton News, July 6, 2017, Volume 3, Number 7.

Canton, Mississippi has many reasons to be proud, and first and foremost among them are her people. From Elmore James (blues singer) to L.C. Greenwood (NFL) to George Raymond (civil rights activist), our fair city is known for the caliber of people she produces.

A shining star for modern Canton is Grady Champion, bluesman extraordinaire. His two decade long career has established him as a Grammy Award winning blues songwriter, singer, producer, and harmonica/guitar player.

Born in 1969 in Canton, the youngest of 28 children, Grady discovered his love of music at the tender age of 8 at church with his family. His first foray into music professionally was as a rapper, but he quickly discovered that his true talents lay with the blues.

Ever an innovator, Grady wasn’t satisfied to simply do the blues as they’d always been done before. He incorporated the music he loved as a young man, rap and hip hop, to create a style of blues that was wholly faithful to tradition, yet innovative enough to draw new and younger fans. His music has won multiple awards, particularly his hit single ‘Make That Monkey Jump,’ and taken him all around the world on tour.

These days Grady spends his time doing the things he loves the most — writing songs, recording music, and touring. His most recent album, One of a Kind, was released by Malaco Records in September 2016.

If you’ve never taken the opportunity to see Grady perform live, you’re missing a true treat. His stage presence is phenomenal, combining incredible energy with a love of performance and constant interaction with the crowd. He knows that fans provide a musician’s success, and he treats them with the love and respect of someone who appreciates every single one of his supporters. At Grady’s concerts, you always feel like you’re among family and friends, beginning with the performer himself.

For a chance to see Grady live, visit his website (gradychampion.com) for tour dates. Hint — he has 2 concerts in Mississippi before July 10!

Planning, Preparing, and Executing: Mississippi’s Historically Successful 2016

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) completed an amazing year in 2016, one which was historically successful from its very beginning. Glenn McCullough, Jr., executive director of MDA, likes to stress that any success the MDA sees is not primarily beneficial for the agency, but most importantly, economic development helps all of Mississippi, especially her workers and citizens.

2016 In Review
February 8, 2016, marked the single largest day for economic development and investment in Mississippi’s economy in the history of our state. On that day, Continental Tire and Topship announced developments in the state that totaled over $1.5 billion in combined capital investments and with plans to create around 3,500 new jobs in the state.

The upward trend continued throughout 2016 with other investments like:

  • Southern Motion expansion in Baldwyn, $20 million capital investment, 600 new jobs
  • Plum Creek Environmental Technologies expansion in West Point, $825,000 capital investment, 50 new jobs
  • McNeely Plastics new operation in Hazlehurst, $6.5 million capital investment, 25 new jobs
  • Hol-Mac expansion in Bay Springs, $5 million capital investment, 40 new jobs
  • BMSI new operation in Iuka, $6 million capital investment, 100 new jobs
  • ROCKFON new operation in Byhalia, $42 million capital investment, 90 new jobs
  • Premium Waters new operation in Hinds County, $20 million capital investment, 42 new jobs
  • BPI Packaging new operation in DeSoto County, $8 million capital investment, 150 new jobs

The list above is just a small sampling of the new and expanding business that Mississippi was fortunate to receive in 2016. It was a watershed year for economic development, but all of that growth did not happen by chance. The state has been preparing for just such a year, and laying the groundwork for many more to come.

Supporting Our Growth
In addition to programs like OneMississippi, Workforce Development, and tourism development, the MDA continues developing specific ways to help Mississippi businesses grow. From bringing in new companies to assisting existing business expansion to planting new local businesses, MDA is working to help economic development in many and varied ways.

Among the programs offered and supported by the MDA are:

Ambassadors Program
In conjunction with 3 partners/sponsors (Entergy, Mississippi Power, and TVA), MDA started its Ambassadors Program last March. The aim of the program is to help communities learn how to best use the full extent of their local resources for community, economic, and industrial development. To that end, MDA went into 9 communities in 2016 with the Program, inviting members of the communities to participate. The Program especially looks for participation from business leaders, elected officials, educators, and other positions central to the life of the local community.

Teams are formed in each community, and their training program consists of studying principles and responsibilities of leadership, looking at ways to focus and help their local communities, and local economic development. Each team undertakes a local project for the betterment of their community, with an eye toward both economic and community development. With the help of MDA guidance and partner assistance, the Ambassadors Program is helping locally driven community improvement and economic development in Mississippi.

MDA Entrepreneur Center
McCullough was proud of the renewed focus the MDA is showing for the state’s entrepreneurs. Mississippi is known as a state where people take their passions and talents and turn them into a career, and the Entrepreneur Center is helping people plan and launch their own companies. MDA offers many services through the Entrepreneur Center, including classes and seminars, marketing assistance, financial guidance, and more. At the end of the day, the MDA Entrepreneur Center is focused on helping offer guidance to Mississippians so their business ideas and ventures can be successful.

By working with programs at the state’s institutions of higher learning, MDA is also preparing the next generation to think in terms of entrepreneurship and community leadership. MDA assists students at the Mississippi State University Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, for example, in developing their ideas into feasible business plans, considering where to look for capital, and starting businesses that will support their families and help both the state and local community. MDA also works with the Trent Lott Center at USM, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Ole Miss, and other programs throughout the state.

State Trade and Export Promotion Program (STEP)
The demand for products made in Mississippi with growing, as demonstrated by our state exports growth of over 226% during the last decade. Mississippi products are getting exported at the highest rate ever. MDA is poised to assist exports’ continued growth, and one way that happens is by helping more businesses begin exporting their products.

The STEP program, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, helps Mississippi businesses begin the path to export by helping defray some of the costs involved. Reimbursements are available for a range of business activities aimed at getting into the export market, including travel costs for trade mission participation, market research, translation assistance, and business-to-business trips.

What Might We See In 2017?
Entering 2017, the MDA is looking at a strong project workload. Though specific details will be announced as project agreements are finalized, McCullough was able to share that one big piece of 2017’s economic development includes working with many partners and potential partners from all over the globe to find potential locations in the state for new and expanding businesses.

With a state leadership united behind growing the economy, the future continues to look bright for Mississippi. From expanding and training the workforce to attracting new investments to supporting entrepreneurs to growing existing businesses, Mississippi is focused on a mission. Economic development will continue to change and expand, offering upward possibilities to Mississippi-based companies and the people of the state.

We cannot wait to see what a recap of 2017 will bring!

Social Media in the Manufacturing Sector: Using Today’s Trends for Tomorrow’s Successes

Begin at the beginning — social media refers to a fairly recent phenomenon wherein various platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) are established for individuals to interact online. Increasingly, businesses are also setting up profiles and interacting on the platforms. These sites, or social media platforms, are used for anything from mundane updates about people’s daily lives to serious business outreach and education.

Manufacturers increasingly have to analyze whether or not they need a presence on social media and exactly what that presence should look like. Is social media a trending fad that will fade, or a building movement that will impact how consumers interact with providers for many years to come?

Generalizations: Setting the Bar
There are some basic truths about social media and its use that go beyond specific business purposes. Understanding the way social media can, and should, be used by the business world is the first step to deciding how a specific company can optimize interactions on the various available platforms. Without this general understanding, any success you see is merely coincidental.

The first major consideration for businesses considering the use of social media answers the question “what is the primary purpose of social media for a business?”

Addressing the question means understanding the primary purpose of social media. Social media platforms are intended to be exactly what their name implies — places to be social. Individuals use social media to stay connected with one another, whether by sharing recipes and pictures of their children or sharing ideas and significant life events. If you post too much, people unfollow you. If you get too didactic, people unfollow you. Lose your interesting edge, and you risk a mass exodus of followers.

In the modern world of 24 hours news cycles and immediate gratification, consumers have come to expect more of the companies that manufacture the products they use. An active social media presence makes your business available to the public, which is huge in today’s marketplace. Everyone wants to feel like they “know” you. Social media gives them that sensation. Additionally, based on the content you share, you can educate, demonstrate expertise, and build a level of trust based on relationship. Social media for businesses is more about relationships than anything else.

Social media is NOT primarily an advertising or sales medium, at least not in the sense of traditional sales media. Rarely will you make direct sales on Facebook, for instance, but you can help set a tone for a meeting that might end in a bid or a contract or a crucial new hire. Most importantly, being (or seeming) available to the general public and building relationships is worth far more than any individual transaction.

Everyone wants to work with a company that’s on top of things. Being active on social media shows that you know what’s going on in the world, but more importantly your content demonstrates that you are consummate professionals and absolute experts at what you do. This helps provide a level of comfort, a level of trust in the services and products you provide.

Specifications: Finding Your Audience
Once we understand the general impetus and movement of social media, then we get to the second major question, “how can/should my business best utilize social media platforms?”

Firstly, every business using social platforms has two audiences — Google and people. The interactions between search engines like Google and being found online is a topic for an entire article on SEO and social media, so suffice it here to say that an active social media presence can help your rankings in search engines, helping your overall online presence in some important ways.

Secondly, and more to the point, who are your human audiences and how do you reach them?

1 – The General Public
The most obvious, and non-specific, audience is the public at large. Any brand (company, manufacturer, product, etc.) has a public image. Connecting directly with the public is an ideal way to craft and manage brand reputation. By carefully choosing and planning social posts, engaging in meaningful representative interactions, and representing your company according to brand strategy in the public sphere, the overall public perception of your company can be radically influenced.
Where might you find them: On any social media platform.

2 – Potential Customers
Since individuals are the primary users of social media, your customers will be present on the platforms by default. Whether you are providing goods directly to an end user, supplying in bulk to distributors, or looking at something altogether different, your audience will be on social media. By being exposed regularly to what your company represents, people in any position (average consumer to CEO) can come to know and relate to you.
Where might you find them: This depends on the exact nature of your businesses. Consumer goods can be well represented on Facebook and Twitter; business facing goods and services are better represented on platforms like LinkedIn and Google+.

3 – Potential Business Partners
Potential partnerships are initiated in a wide range of ways, and many connections begin on social media platforms. Whether looking to discover a new product or niche, or for a partner to support an already flourishing undertaking, your presence on social media places your company in front of many potential partners for your business.
Where might you find them: Again, this depends on the exact nature of your business. People tend to be present on platforms that closely align with their lifestyles — LinkedIn for white collar professionals, for example.

4 – Potential Employees
Individuals spend increasingly more time on social media platforms. The use of these sites crosses age ranges, with the major discernable difference being the platform of choice for any given age group. Locating skilled workers for manufacturing jobs has become increasingly challenging over the last few years. Your potential employee pool is on social media today. Find them. Reach them. Impress them. Make them think, “I want to work for you!”
Where might you find them: Everywhere. People need jobs, and companies need qualified employees, and these people can be found on any of the social media platforms available.

Applications: The Right Social Media Partner
The third and final question, before trying your hand at the real world of social media interactions, is this — “do I need help, and how do I find the right help for my company?”

Most manufacturing companies, because of the multitude of daily demands in the industry, will need assistance with social media, from choosing the platforms that are right for them to managing daily postings and responses to interactions. Unless your company wants to bring in someone full time for the position, finding the right partner is crucial for a presence that will benefit your company and brand.

What are some qualities to look for in a social media partner?

Partnership: You can assess a social manager’s general outlook from the first meeting. It is imperative that your social media partner be a true partner, working with you every step of the way for your success. Do they want to work with you, or for you? Do they take your goals and business seriously? Do they ask the right questions to fully understand your business in order to properly represent your products and brand on social media platforms? Do they offer continued consultation and evaluation of on-going efforts?
Flexibility: Business can be a fast-paced world, and you need a social partner who can work with the ebbs and flows of your needs. Scheduling is crucial for a consistent social media presence, but spur of the moment announcements and even dramatic changes to set schedules happen. Will your social media partner have the flexibility to adapt to the ever changing needs of your company?
Relevant Content Production: At the heart of social media management is the content posted on the various platforms on a daily basis. Writing relevant content that draws the right kind of attention and spreads the right messages should be the cornerstone of a good social media partner — telling stories, asking questions, touting your other partners/clients. Does your partner do the necessary research? Can they produce and write the content you need, and your followers crave?
Reporting: What are the reporting capabilities of the company you are considering? Can you get detailed numbers (followers, viewers, interactions) and analysis for all of your social media properties? Are they also able to integrate with your website, looking at how your social media activity may be driving leads and sales? Without serious, regular reporting, it is virtually impossible to see what type of impact your social media work is having for your brand.


Maintaining an active and engaged social media presence in today’s online world is a must for practically every company, regardless of field or size. By understanding how to use it, who your audiences are, and choosing a good management partner, your company’s social media platforms can be a cost-effective and significant part of your total outreach and media strategy.

March On Mississippi: The Workers’ Rights Movement Comes to Canton

The article below was commissioned by and published in The Canton News, April 6, 2017, Volume 3, Number 4. 16. Published as ‘The Workers’ Rights Movement comes to Canton.’

Saturday, March 3, 2017 — It’s 12:30pm on a beautiful, temperate day in Canton. Cars, vans, and buses are filling the parking lots at the Canton Sportsplex. People have been arriving for a while now, coming to participate in the March On Mississippi. Some come for the speakers, some are employees at Nissan, and others are simply there to support the Nissan workers.

Background
The March On Mississippi was organized by the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a group created to address issues at the plant. Workers at the plant claim that Nissan is using intimidation and threats to keep them from voting on whether or not they would like to form a union to represent the workforce at the Canton plant. They say that the lack of a union has led to unequal pay and unsafe working conditions, like those that led to OSHA recently fining Nissan over $20,000 for multiple safety violations.

Nissan has released a statement responding to the safety claims, stating in part: “We dedicate extensive time and resources to safety programs and training at the plant…Nissan’s Canton plant has a safety record that is significantly better than the national average…” And responding to claims of worker intimidation: “The allegations made by the union are totally false…Nissan respects and values the Canton workforce, and our history reflects that we recognize the employees’ rights to decide for themselves whether or not to have third-party representation.”

The March
The March kicked off around 1pm, beginning with a series of speakers at the Sportsplex. Among those sharing words and supporting the effort were US Senator Bernie Sanders, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, and actor/activist Danny Glover. “The eyes of the country, the eyes of the world are on you at this moment…all of our people deserve decent wages and decent benefits…[this is] a struggle for dignity,” said Senator Sanders, to a loud and enthusiastic crowd.

The marchers began their 2.5 mile trek to Nissan at about 1:45pm, the final goal of which was to deliver an official letter of complaint to Nissan. The crowd was diverse and upbeat, and consisted of Nissan workers, members of the UAW from other plants, students, retired workers, families, and many who had come out to support the employees of Nissan.

As they marched, the people talked, laughed, and chanted. Two of the most common chants were: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!”

There were no reports of issues, even with the large crowds and a small group of people protesting the march. Everyone was bused back to the Sportsplex from Nissan, and the crowds dispersed peacefully.

A Monument to Equality: The Canton Freedom House Civil Rights Museum (Part 1)

The article below was commissioned by and published in The Canton News, March 2, 2017, Volume 3, Number 3. Published as ‘Visit the Canton Freedom House Civil Rights Museum.’ An expanded article, complete with additional information and photographs, will be posted as a follow-up on my blog tomorrow.

Like many small Mississippi towns, Canton is quiet on a Saturday morning. A few cars cruise the streets, a few people stroll the sidewalks, but for the most part the town seems to sleep.

Similarly, Canton’s Freedom House Civil Rights Museum is, at first glance, an unopposing structure. Situated in a residential neighborhood, marked only by a simple sign, this monument of the Civil Rights Movement contains much more history than the casual observer may initially recognize.

Glen Cotton, a Canton native and local carpenter, manages and gives tours of the museum, eagerly sharing his knowledge with anyone willing to listen. Restoration of the house began in 2012, with initial tours officially beginning in 2013. The site, however, had received annual visitors even when the house was in a state of disrepair. This gives a hint to the historical importance of the address.

Cotton’s goal was to restore the house to what it was like in the 1960s, except now instead of being filled with workers, volunteers, and friends of the Civil Rights Movement, it is filled with photographs, newspaper articles, and memorabilia of the Movement.

As a brief historical introduction to the house, Cotton’s grandparents first leased the building to George Raymond in 1963. Raymond arrived in Canton to establish an outpost for the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.), one of the major groups working for equality during the Civil Rights Movement. C.O.R.E.’s initial mission in Canton was to register African Americans in Madison County to vote.

The Freedom House, as it was known, was the central hub of the Movement in Madison County. Volunteers were based there, planning and organizing happened there, and Civil Rights heroes from Martin Luther King, Jr., to James Meredith stayed and worked there.

Cotton says, “Most of the people coming to tour the museum are from out of town. I would love to see more local people — Canton folks, school kids — come to learn about what happened here during the Civil Rights Movement.”

For more information and tours, contact Glen Cotton at 601-317-2557, or email the museum at freedomhousecanton@gmail.com. The museum’s posted hours are Friday, 10:00a.m.-5:00p.m., though tours are given by appointment any other day of the week.

Matthew E. Jackson is a writer, engaged, father, vp of client services for a marketing agency, and contributing editor for a magazine publishing company. He has written and worked in most genres, but some of his favorite pieces to create are reflections and essays, short fiction, poetry, and virtually any type of article.