Coast Chamber members weigh in on state flag debate

Published: Jul. 23, 2015 at 6:08 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2015 at 9:54 AM CDT
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Kimberly Nastasi is the CEO of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce. (Photo source:...
Kimberly Nastasi is the CEO of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce. (Photo source: WLOX)
Biloxi Mayor FoFo Gilich. (Photo source: WLOX)
Biloxi Mayor FoFo Gilich. (Photo source: WLOX)

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - When it comes to the future of the controversial Mississippi state flag, only one thing is certain. The debate is not going to end anytime soon.

The flag with the Confederate battle emblem in the corner was on the minds of Coast business leaders at the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce sponsored breakfast with the mayor.

More than 200 chamber members packed into the Hard Rock with the American flag on stage, but no state flag. For many in the room, it was probably not missed.

Kimberly Nastasi is the CEO of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce.

"It has a negative perception of Mississippi. When we look at all the wonderful things that we have to offer businesses and tourism, we need to put our best foot forward and present an image of progression," Nastasi said.

The debate has reached Biloxi City Hall, with a business leader emailing the mayor, asking him to remove the flag from the council chambers.

Biloxi Mayor FoFo Gilich isn't sure what can legally be done.

"Is it doable, is it allowable, and what options do we have as a city to fly it or not fly it," said Gilich.

History also plays a role in the debate.

Liz Joachim is a longtime business owner. "We'll never put history away, but if this is controversial and will affect businesses, the economy, what have you, I think we need to make a commitment to go ahead. Let's get with the times. Let's not be the last state to do anything about it," Joachim said.

When it comes to outside perception of the state of Mississippi, reality doesn't necessarily always ring true. That's one of the problems with the state flag and with the image, according to business owner Lashaundra McCarty.

"I went to undergrad and graduate schools in other areas, and the perception was that Mississippi was still living in a segregated past. As you can see around this room, that is not really what the community looks like. But we have an image out there that can possibly be divisive," McCarty said.

For some, like businessman Anthony Mitchell, attracting new industry is also seen as a problem because of the flag.

"I think it hurts us here locally, as well as throughout the state. I think it limits the individuals that would come here, and for all that has happened in the past few months, it is not shedding a good light on the state of Mississippi," said Mitchell.

Any action taken on the future of the flag probably won't occur until January of next year when the legislature convenes in Jackson.

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