Fourteen years ago I moved to Hattiesburg to attend The University of Southern Mississippi. When I moved here I had no intention of staying after I graduated. I was going to leave town right after I received my diploma and only visit during Homecoming. I didn’t have any negative feelings toward this town, I just could not see myself living here. I grew up on The Coast and viewed Hattiesburg as a small town with not much to offer in terms of jobs and what I considered to be good quality of life factors. 

I remember my parents telling stories about how everyone questioned when they built Roses and University Mall (now known as Mid-Town Market)  “out in the country”. When I was in high school I visited my brother for a few days to get a feeling for the college life. While visiting he took me to the new Turtle Creek Mall. Once again everyone was wondering why they built in so far out. 

When I was enrolled at USM it was known as a suitcase college. Every weekend the students would head out of town as quickly as they could, only to return late Sunday night or early Monday morning. There was little for young adults to do, much less a place for many of them to work. It seemed that everyone wanted it to change, but nothing was being done to fix this. 

Little did I know that there were plans in the works from various groups in the area. During one of my internships I was asked to attend a networking meeting hosted by The Area Development Partnership. It was during this meeting that I learned I was not the only one that wished for change in the area. A spokesperson for The ADP spoke about plans to bring more jobs into the area and ways to keep young adults from moving away once they graduated. I thought it was a lofty goal and probably just a few talking points to make everybody feel better. 

Luckily, I was wrong. Over the past 14 years I have seen this city transform leaps and bounds to a place that I am happy to call home. 

What was once a dwindling downtown area with vacant buildings and empty lots is now beginning to thrive thanks to the efforts of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association and several forward thinking business owners and developers. Thanks to these groups downtown Hattiesburg is bustling with numerous restaurants, shops, art events, and festivals that create exciting experiences for all involved. 

The student life at USM has changed for the better. The improvements made to the campus since I graduated have been phenomenal. It is a joy to walk around the campus now. There are also more activities to keep students on campus and bring alumni back to campus. Does anyone remember USM tailgating 14 years ago? I sure do, and it was absolutely boring. 

The medical community in Hattiesburg has blossomed to be one of the leading medical communities in the Southeast. For the population size of Hattiesburg, we are very fortunate to have access to the quality health care professionals that have decided to practice in our area. With the addition of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at William Carey University, Hattiesburg has become not only a place for quality doctors to practice, but also a place to train future doctors. 

With the growth of Camp Shelby into one of the United States military’s major training facilities, Hattiesburg has seen a tremendous population growth. Because of the strong education, military, and medical community that we have it is no wonder that other business decided to locate in Hattiesburg, bringing more job opportunities and an excellent quality of life this town.  

From looking at future development plans by both the local governments and private developers for each part of town, I am confident in knowing that the best is yet to come. Community progress can often seem slow, but when I think back on the past 14 years I have seen what can quickly be done by groups of people that have a deep passion and love for their community.Perhaps I’m getting older, but the more I see Hattiesburg change, the more I think we are heading in the right direction.