Establishing a good ‘First Impression’

Published 5:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008

Thanks to the First Impressions program, the city of Brookhavenwill soon have its own secret shoppers of sorts.

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive VicePresident Cliff Brumfield said the purpose of the program is torecord the thoughts and impressions of visitors on their firstvisit to a community. Their positive and negative feelings for thecommunity are then used to bring up improvements that city leaderscan evaluate for improving the community.

“In coming days we’ll have our community visitation team fromFirst Impressions coming through Brookhaven,” Brumfield said. “Itwill involve a number of community development professionals andother knowledgeable people who have volunteered to do an analysisof the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the city, and give thecommunity a report card from outsider coming in.”

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Mayor Bob Massengill said the program matches up similar townsto allow them to trade ideas.

“Generally they pair one town with another town of like size,”he said. “I think Brookhaven is a little larger than the townsthey’ve done their studies on in the past.”

Brookhaven is the largest city that has been evaluated by theFirst Impressions, Brumfield said.

“Brookhaven will be the largest community evaluated this far inthe program,” he said. “In return, some citizens of Brookhaven willbe evaluating another community in the future as well.”

Brumfield said the people who will come with the program areable to assess where the city needs to improve from an unbiasedview.

“These are all people who are very knowledgeable in communityassessment and can readily identify the strong points as well asareas that can be improved,” said Brumfield. “We’re hoping this cangive us more pointers for our strategic plan in order to highlightsome things we can continue to work on.”

Massengill said oftentimes people become familiar with their ownenvironment and don’t recognize the places where improvement isneeded.

“I believe this program can only make us a better town,” hesaid. “Being here all the time we fail to see some things thatfresh eyes may see and that we would end up being the beneficiariesof down the road.”

Brumfield said the visitors will look at things like signage andhousing, as well as health care facilities, hospitals, and retailthoroughfares in the downtown business district. One thing thatmakes the advice of the visitors helpful is that they have nothingto gain from the project except a return visit, Massengillsaid.

“We see this program as being a considerable benefit to theentire community because these folks are going to come in, andthey’re not trying to sell us a product or service,” he said.”They’re coming in and giving us a first impression of what theysee when they come into our community, hopefully it’ll make it abetter community.”

Brumfield said the city is excited about learning not only aboutits strong points, but weaknesses as well.

“The community will get a very in-depth assessment with pointsof assets and strong points as well as areas needing improvement,”he said. “Which is something all communities have. This issomething the chamber felt was a very worthwhile program.”

The First Impressions program is run through the MississippiState Community Action Team and the Mississippi State UniversityExtension Service. Since the program is volunteer-based, theprogram is currently free to participating communities.