Coast economy brightening, experts say

         

BILOXI

Panelists at Thursday’s Business Expo agreed that 2009 was a terrible year for business and 2010 is showing signs of an upswing.

Businesses that survived last year are stronger, said Mike Boudreaux with GCID Inc. in Biloxi. He is working on three mixed-use developments but said he’s had to reinvent his development company in the last year and suggested to most business owners in the audience at the IP Casino Resort they do the same.

The second annual Business Expo was sponsored by the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce. The panel discussion covered business from several perspectives:

@BR Body bold Lede colon:Casino market trends: Beverly Martin, director of the Mississippi Casino Operators Association, said Mississippi lost its position as the third largest casino market in the country. “Indiana took that distinction last year,” she said. But regional competition could knock Indiana down from that spot when casinos open in Ohio, and she said it will affect Coast casinos as every state looks at expanding gambling as other revenue shrinks. The market is expanding in Florida and November’s election in Alabama could bring a governor who is pro-casinos. “It warrants watching for the state of Mississippi,” she said. “A third of our market comes from the east.”

Lodging: Linda Hornsby, director of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, said the three Coast counties now have 12,700 lodging rooms compared to 17,544 before Hurricane Katrina. Occupancy is higher than the state and Southeast average, but still below the national rate.

Events like the Mississippi Coast Resort Classic will help. “I can’t tell you how important that will be. It will put us on the golf map,” she said.

Small business and entrepreneurship: Stephen Whitt, director of The Innovation Center, said small businesses always face challenges. “These challenging times are what afford us the luxury of innovating,” he said.

By MARY PEREZ – meperez@sunherald.com

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