GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Every small business could use some networking.
A program started by the Gulf Coast Heritage Area targets the backbone of the Coast's tourism industry.
"What that does is allows nature-based tourism businesses to become stronger," said Rhonda Price, the director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area. "We want to keep them in business, so we want to provide those business resource tools."
Wednesday was the first business summit for nature-based businesses - from charter boats to swamp tours, fitness guides, outfitters, and everything else outdoors.
One of the major problems of the nature aspect of tourism is marketing. Organizers say the project can help with that, and much more. The process is to develop businesses as a certified Outpost. In turn, it would create a unique network for people with very specific educational and promotional needs.
It would also provide grants to help businesses meet their goals.
"We want them to be knowledgeable and strong and help be leaders in sustainability for our natural resources," Price added.
Dan Wittmann, owner of Wut Sup Paddle, Skate & Rentals needs help address everyday issues.
"The number one question I get asked from tourists is, 'Why is ya'll's water brown? Why do ya'll have drainage culverts running out to ya'll's beach,'" Wittmann said. "I want to help promote and educate people as to why...our water's no different than swimming in any lake or river."
Kathy Wilkinson has owned Eco-tours of South Mississippi in Gautier since 2006.
"At first, I was a little reluctant because, I thought, 'Oh, here we go. More red tape, some more regulatory stuff.' But, it hasn't been that way so far and I'm eager to see what it can do for us."
And what she needs is promotion.
"At this point in my business life," she said, "it's about marketing and advertising and exposure."