Student population increase drives Oxford economic growth

Posted on Sep 9 2016 - 8:01am by Kelsey Sims

This could be the year that Oxford tops $1 billion in retail sales, according to Allen Kurr.

Kurr, vice president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, said the university’s student population boom brings with it both buyers and retailers.

From 2011 to 2015, Ole Miss’ Oxford campus enrollment increased from more than 16,000 to nearly 20,000, and Oxford’s population, excluding the university, increased from more than 19,000 to to roughly 22,000, Kurr said.

“The growth in student enrollment coupled with the rise in retiree interest has made Oxford one of the fastest growing cities in the South, which is especially attractive to retailers,” Kurr said. “This change in demographics, coupled with Oxford’s superb quality of life, has led to businesses wanting to locate here, employees wanting to stay here and entrepreneurs wanting to start up here.”

The city’s assessed value growth in tax evaluations reflects how much the community has grown in the past five years. Between 2011 and 2012, the assessed value growth was about $365 million, and between 2015 and 2016, the value increased to about $462 million, according to Oxford City Mayor Pat Patterson.

Kurr said Oxford has seen a record number of ribbon cutting ceremonies at the Chamber of Commerce this year, which indicates the significant amount of new businesses coming to town.

In the past year, many new businesses have moved into Oxford, including hotels like The Courtyard Marriott and The Graduate, as well as restaurants like Rowdy Rebs, Bacchus, St. Leo, Dickey’s, Cookout, Beagle Bagel Café, Great American Cookie, Marble Slab Creamery and Juva.

“More people means more businesses and more diverse opportunities, but it also means more traffic and more lines,” Patterson said.

Patterson said he remains optimistic about the change in growth, however.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Patterson said, “I prefer the dreams of tomorrow to the stories of the past.”

Some Oxonians have a less-than-favorable outlook on the town’s growth.

“When I was younger, there were less places to eat, but the town was simpler,” senior education major Courtney Britt said.“Oxford wasn’t meant to hold so many people and to be so crowded.”

Britt said the vast growth is taking the small-town feel away from Oxford.

“Since my freshman year in 2012, I have noticed a great deal of changes to both the university and Oxford itself. I especially noticed the most dramatic of these changes when I came back from studying abroad for a semester,” senior Chinese and finance major John Lester said.

Lester said it seems like everywhere he looks, new dorm buildings and restaurants are being built.

Despite any resistance, the city continues to expand.

“In the retail and restaurant space, the upcoming opening of Oxford Galleria II is especially exciting due to the name recognition and popularity of their tenants,” said Allen Kurr, vice president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation.

Plans for Mortgage Trade, Next Gear Solutions, a restoration job management software company and Curtsy, a dress rental and sharing app, will also be coming to Oxford, according to Kurr.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshall’s, 5 Below, Five Guys Burgers and Chipotle have also confirmed their expansions into Oxford.

Like Juva, many other businesses are seeing the opportunities that a town like Oxford can bring.

“Oxford is one of the fastest growing cities based out of Mississippi, and we want our brand to be a part of that growth,” Kyle Ryan, general manager of Juva Juice and Smoothie Bar, said.

“[Oxford] is a crucial location to see how our business will do in larger markets like Jackson, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta or Birmingham because Oxford draws so many people from those markets as visitors, seasonal residents or students,” Ryan said.

Ben Ulmer, the manager of Beagle Bagel Café said they wanted to reach people from their customer base in Jackson and reach new people as well.

“We were in Jackson for 20 years, and this is our first store outside the city,” Ulmer said.  “We thought Oxford was a great place because it was a growing city with our customer target market.”

Beagle Bagel Café is seeking to make a name for itself here in Oxford, according to Ulmer.

“We decided to expand Great American Cookie into Oxford because we saw a demand for quality desserts like our cookies and ice cream among Ole Miss students as well as the Oxford-Lafayette community,” Jeff King, assistant manager of Great American Cookie, said.

Despite economic growth, Patterson said many things in Oxford have not changed much in the past few years.

“I think it’s still small. It’s safe,” Patterson said. “Oxford is the smallest Division 1 host community in the United States.”

Other government officials are planning for additional growth to come.

“I think it’s outpaced our ability (to sustain growth) the past couple years from an infrastructure standpoint,” Patterson said. “But since then, the university has stepped up, and Lafayette County, and we’re all working together to deal with these growth issues.”