Veteran corporate turnaround executive Deborah Hicks Midanek Bailey, President of Solon Group, Inc., moved from New York to Grenada, Mississippi, in 2006 to marry Coley Bailey, former Chairman of Mississippi Chemical Corporation. To the new Deborah Hicks Midanek Bailey, Grenada offered enticing opportunities to use her skills, well known nationally, to make a difference in her adopted home, a rural community 100 miles north of Jackson and south of Memphis.
When Coley was appointed Chairman of the Economic Development District when the County first allocated funding to it, Deborah‘s firm Solon Group served as pro bono strategic advisor, led the strategic planning effort, developed the website, and recruited the County‘s first full time professional economic development executive. Once Pablo Diaz was in place, Deborah moved on to start the Grenada Community Foundation in 2009.
With a mission of improving the quality of life for all citizens of Grenada County, Grenada Community Foundation has, with very little money and only volunteers at work, started the Grenada Farmers Market, a USDA certified market now in its 6th season, started the Grenada Early Learning Advantage Center, started Grenada Gives 365, helped to start Grenada Afterglow Film Festival, entering its 4th season, and 18 months ago, started the Grenada Downtown Innovation District Association. The Friends of Chakchiuma Natural Area have recently joined the Foundation‘s Committees, and discussions about helping to create bike and walking trails throughout the beautiful area are in progress.
As a business owner herself, Bailey is invested in creating an economic climate that is welcoming to potential new business owners. Prevail Investments LLC, another of her companies, purchased its first building in all but abandoned downtown Grenada in 2007 and fully renovated it, providing office space for the economic development function. In 2013, tired of listening to lamenting about the derelict condition of downtown, Prevail bought 8 more previously abandoned buildings around the historic Courthouse Square, and in 2017 10 more.
Renovation work on her buildings continues and her roster of tenants is growing: a trucking company, an insurance company, a counseling business, and several law firms occupy her office space, and all of her loft apartments are rented. Her flagship building at 97 First Street, recognized for the quality of its restoration with an award from Mississippi Heritage Trust in 2016, is home to First & Green Celebrations, a popular site for weddings, reunions, corporate events and other large gatherings. First & Green, named Couples Choice Award Winner by Wedding Wire in 2016 and in 2017, has served as powerful catalyst to renewed vitality downtown, attracting hundreds and hundreds of visitors from near and far who experience the beauty of downtown Grenada and want to come back for more.
Building on its success as well as strong demand for the new loft apartments she created, Bailey is creating a restaurant, a bakery, live/work housing for artists, a bar and grill, office space, more gorgeous loft apartments and more. She is also working on establishing startup incubators for these new small businesses to help ensure their success.
In 2014, Bailey succeeded in getting not just her buildings but approximately 90 others listed as the Grenada Downtown Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This means that the owners of these properties are able to receive tax credits of 45% of their improvement dollars if they follow the restoration guidelines established by the Mississippi Department of Archives & History. Bailey herself received the tax credits on completed properties to date, and, of the 10 other buildings purchased in the last two years, 3 more tax credit eligible restorations are in progress.
With an influx of new businesses and building owners arriving, Bailey formed the Grenada Downtown Innovation District Association under the Grenada Community Foundation umbrella, and with 7 other sturdy souls the group meets every other Thursday to plan new initiatives and manage current ones. What we envision is a vibrant downtown that builds on Grenada‘s unique assets – huge Grenada Lake 1 mile away, famed for its fishing, fabulous outdoor recreation opportunities, gorgeous 19C row buildings surrounding its largely unspoiled Square, the availability of fiber optic cable and lightning fast internet speed, and its position on Interstate 55 halfway between Memphis and Jackson.
Progress is accelerating, as The Lofts on the Square opened as a new bed and breakfast several weeks ago, and the opening of Rave Coffee House and the grand reopening of Engagements Bridal and Formal Wear in its newly restored home in historic Post Office are eagerly expected any day. Bailey and the Downtown Innovation District‘s work were featured in a recent article in the Delta Business Journal, and other stories are in development.
Bailey‘s decade of working not only in Grenada but across the state of Mississippi, is drawing more and more well-deserved recognition for that work. Having served as a member of the Mississippi Seed Fund Investment Board for some years, she was elected to the board of Innovate Mississippi, a nonprofit driving innovation and technology-based economic development throughout the state, in 2015. In 2016, Mississippi Heritage Trust recognized her contributions to preservation in the state with its award. In early 2017, she was elected Vice Chairman of the Innovate Mississippi Board, which includes CEOs, technology entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders, as well as the Chancellors of Mississippi’s four major research universities.
For Bailey, accolades are hardly noticed, as she is deeply enjoying working every day to grow her city and its economy. She loves the opportunity to use the problem solving turnaround skills through which she has long made a good living in making a difference in her adopted home town and state.
She and Solon Group, Inc., have not, however, neglected their business nor their other clients. Two other awards have just been announced: Solon Group, Inc., has been named 2017 Corporate Governance Advisory Firm of the Year by Corporate USA Today, and Best in Business Turnaround Services for the Americas 2017 by Corporate Livewire.