Biloxi, Mississippi

The information in our study covers the Gulfport-Biloxi, Mississippi, Metropolitan Statistical Area.

In each community, the Knight Soul of the Community study identified factors that emotionally attach residents to where they live. Some of these community characteristics that drive attachment were rated highly by residents, and are therefore community strengths while others were rated lower, making them opportunities for improvement. This information can provide communities a roadmap for increasing residents’ emotional attachment to where they live, which the study found has a significant relationship to economic vitality.

Attachment to the Biloxi area is trending lower in 2010. Community outlook, an important aspect of community attachment, is rated significantly lower in 2010.

In the Biloxi area, social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people), openness (how welcoming a place is) and aesthetics (an area’s physical beauty and green spaces) are the most important factors emotionally connecting residents to where they live.

Social offerings is perceived as a strength, particularly the availability of social community events. Aesthetics are also perceived as a community strength, particularly the natural beauty of the area.

Openness is still seen as an area needing improvement in Biloxi particularly to young talent who is still perceived as the least welcome group. Additionally, 18-34s are least attached age group reinforcing the critical opportunity of attracting and keeping young talent to the area.

Ratings of the local economy are down significantly in 2010; however, the economy is still not a key factor affecting residents’ connection to place. Perception of basic services were up significantly in 2010.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Biloxi Implications

The purpose of Knight Soul of the Community is to provide communities a roadmap for understanding what attaches residents to their community and why it matters – not to be prescriptive on what communities should do with the information. However, the findings do point to some general implications and suggestions, some of which the community may be already undertaking, or provide new opportunities for consideration.

Like the other 25 communities studied in Soul of the Community, Biloxi’s key attachment drivers are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. However, it is not as simple as identifying best practices in each of these areas and replicating them everywhere. Instead, as the name implies, Soul of the Community encourages a conversation about a community’s soul or essential essence as a place around these key drivers. Some possible questions to ask are: What is it about our aesthetics/social offerings/welcomeness that is unique to our community? Where do we excel or struggle in those areas? Using that information to optimize those drivers to encourage resident attachment—and potentially local economic growth – is what Soul of the Community seeks to accomplish.

Attachment to Biloxi is trending downward during the three years of the study, with Biloxi starting as the second most attached community studied in 2008 and falling out of the top 10 in 2010. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the general rating of these areas by residents have remained basically unchanged from 2009 to 2010.

A strength of Biloxi in the eyes of its residents is its social offerings, particularly in the areas of the availability of social community events and perceptions that residents caring about each other. The community scores higher in social offerings than its comparison communities. Though overall social offerings is trending slightly lower in 2010, it remains a strength of the community that community should be leveraged.

Trending upward all three years of the study is the rating of local aesthetics, now becoming a strength of the community for the first time during the study. This is great news that should be exemplified by community leadership as a real achievement considering the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina. Recognizing that the community is making real progress in such an important area for community attachment may help reinforce and grow this momentum, which could help feed local optimism and ultimately increase attachment.

Though Biloxi scores higher than its comparison communities in openness, it remains a challenge area for the community. Specifically, young talent continues to be perceived as the least welcomed group and ratings declined during the three years of the study. This is troubling as many young people left their jobs in other places and returned home to Biloxi after Katrina to help rebuild their community. However, upon returning, they report not feeling fully welcomed back in all aspects of community life. The findings reflect that the 18-34-year-old group’s attachment took a sharp drop in 2010, and they are now the least attached age group.

Two things are apparent for Biloxi: (1) success around aesthetics should be highlighted to motivate continued work in this important area for attachment and (2) the community should take every advantage of the young people who moved back to the community after Katrina and use their talents, skills and leadership abilities: Make them feel welcome, included and wanted in the community. This means providing opportunities for them to assume leadership positions in the community and with the projects that matter most in connecting them to place, specifically social offerings and community welcomeness. Showcase this boomerang effect of young people returning to attract business and jobs to the area. Target young people and give them a recognized voice in Biloxi’s continued rebuilding. In turn, their attachment to the area will again grow, they will contribute to the local economy, provide a talent workforce and be the leaders that take Biloxi into its desired future.

Thoughts on the findings in the Gulf Coast

Adele Lyons is Knight's program director for the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

As a life long resident of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I feel I know a lot about what makes the Coast tick. I think this was part of the reason I was hired by Knight Foundation to serve as the Program Director for the area. I was not at all surprised to read the results of the Gallup survey that found residents are emotionally attached to the Coast. In fact, the Mississippi Gulf Coast ranks high amongst the other 25 Knight Foundation communities in their loyalty and passion to the community.

I think back to how many times I have heard someone say, "I wasn’t born here, but I got here as fast as I could." I've heard this over and over again from military retirees, corporate transplants, spouses of locals who were convinced to make the Coast their family’s home.

The Soul of the Community survey found there are three main factors that attach people to the community – social offerings (fun places to gather), openness (how welcoming a place is) and aesthetics (an area’s physical beauty). Just think about how many festivals, great restaurants and fun things there are to do on the Coast as well as places to socialize. These social offerings make living here fun, but they're also why tourists visit our towns. Openness is what the Coast was built on as a melting pot of so many nationalities, religions and cultures. There is a steady flow of new personnel to our military bases from all of the US and the world keeps this melting pot churning. The third factor is the one that is near and dear to my heart - aesthetics. The Coast has unbelievable physical beauty in our natural resources ranging from the Gulf to the bayous and rivers and many trees.

Of course, we are all more appreciative of the beauty of our community once we saw so much of it damaged or destroyed following Katrina.

You can learn more about Knight Foundation and Gallup’s Soul of the Community survey by exploring this site.

I would like to hear from you what drives your loyalty and passion for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Please comment on this blog post and share your thoughts.