Mississippi Madness Outgrows Incubator

September 30, 1997

In 1993, Nancy McNamee began refining recipes and marketing plans to sell gourmet southern food from her hometown of Clarksdale, Miss. Sensing the nation's appetite for Southern things, she paired two regional favorites—good food and good stories—in eye-catching Mississippi Delta-shaped packages. Thus, McNamee launched her company, which she called Mississippi Madness. It wasn't long before the company's products—such as black-eyed pea paté, soup and caviar; Good Luck Hoppin' John casserole; and Good Luck turnip greens-began to be featured at Disney World, Opryland and major retailers like Bloomingdale's, Neiman-Marcus and Marshall Fields.

What is unique about Mississippi Madness is that it was nurtured in a business incubator. After outgrowing a small facility and needing a place to expand its operation, the company and its 10 employees moved into the Coahoma County Business Development Center in August 1994.

This center is a business incubator designed to create jobs and reduce small business failures by making it easier for businesses and entrepreneurs to survive the critical early stages of development. It is conveniently connected to the Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce and resides in the Sunbelt Industrial Development Park. The Chamber/Industrial Foundation of Coahoma County manages the Business Development Center. It offers flexible units at affordable rental rates, equipment and services on a shared-cost basis, assistance in obtaining financing through partnerships with local banks, and counseling on various aspects of business. The staff of the Foundation is housed in the facility.

By 1995, Mississippi Madness employed 50 people from the Clarksdale area. While continuing to do its own production, the company was rapidly expanding and eventually occupied the entire center. Recently the company outgrew the incubator and farmed out production to another Mississippi company. This move allowed Mississippi Madness to concentrate on its retail and mail-order business. Since leaving the incubator, the company has opened offices in Clarksdale and a retail outlet in Columbus, Miss. A new retail outlet will be opening soon in Oxford, Miss.

Dinni Clark, product developer at Mississippi Madness' retail store in Columbus, Miss., shows off the variety of products the company offers. Following a careful cultivation period in a business incubator, Mississippi Madness has taken flight and continues to expand.

Dinni Clark, product developer at the Columbus retail store, recently represented Mississippi Madness at a Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., where she introduced grits and other Southern delicacies to people from around the world. Clark said that local Columbus banks made the opening of the Columbus kitchen and retail store successful.

Thanks largely to its roots in a business incubator, it appears that the only direction for McNamee's Southern company is 'north.'

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Bridges is a regular review of regional community and economic development issues. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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