Many communities live in the shadows of much larger cities. Sometimes they are dwarfed. But in the case of DeSoto County, Mississippi, this border-state suburb of Memphis, Tennessee, has carved out a niche all its own. The county of 161,000 people on the Delta Bluffs is in the state’s far northwest corner near the Tennessee and Arkansas lines.
DeSoto County, just off Interstate 55, is a short drive south of Memphis across the Mississippi River. Also nearby are interstates 69 and 22. The Memphis International Airport, just six miles from DeSoto County, is convenient to all locales. The airport has 300 daily flights provided by seven major airlines and three commuter airlines. The region is a major cargo transportation site and is home to a FedEx super hub and a major UPS hub.
The Mississippi side of metro Memphis is growing rapidly in what is called the Mid South. Growth communities include Olive Branch, Horn Lake and Southaven. Also accelerating growth is the development of the casino industry southwest of DeSoto County in Tunica. It is the third-largest gambling mecca in the United States, after Las Vegas and Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“We’re good neighbors with Memphis, as well as Tunica. We advertise with them and work together on regional marketing,” said Kim Carroll, executive director of the DeSoto County Convention and Visitors Bureau/Tourism Association. “We’re minutes from Memphis and minutes from Tunica, but we are completely unique.”
This location allows meeting planners to have the best of both worlds in DeSoto County. Visitors can lunge into the big-time entertainment options available just minutes away in Memphis or Tunica, or enjoy the slower yet still productive business atmosphere — with a little fun on the side — of DeSoto County. The area is full of Southern charm.
“DeSoto County is a great small market meeting site,” said Carroll, who added that her community offers many opportunities for groups to meet without the higher prices often found in Memphis and Tunica. DeSoto County takes pride in its growing hotel market, Carroll said. “We have 38 now. Just 11 years ago, we had only 21.”.
Among the most interesting places to meet and sleep in DeSoto County is the Bonne Terre Country Inn in Nesbit. This 15-room bed-and-breakfast is a corporate retreat that also boasts gourmet dining in the Café Bonne Terre, available to guests of the inn or anyone who’d like to dine there. There is also spa service available, with treatments and packages at group rates. On the same grounds is the Williamsburg-themed Ashley Hall, the largest facility on-site, which can accommodate up to 200 people for meetings and other functions with flexible room configurations. A smaller, nearby venue called the Fountain Room can handle up to 40 people.
The grounds at Bonne Terre include a lake — guests shouldn’t forget their fishing gear — and pleasant walking paths underneath the pecan trees. Bonne Terre is a refreshing way for busy business people to meet, then relax and recharge their batteries.
The Landers Center, formerly the DeSoto Civic Center, is the area’s largest event venue. Located in Southaven, the center boasts 10,000 arena seats with a large floor that’s ideal for trade shows. The convention center provides a 17,000-square-foot hall that can be divided in numerous ways. Sit-down dinners can be set for 20 to 1,000 people. Center staff handles lighting, sound systems and other logistics, as well as full banquet services.
The Landers Center is so versatile that on any given day it may host a comedy festival, a Monster Truck show, a Christmas pageant, a Disney show, a cheerleading competition, a boat show, or a country, blues or pop concert. Name it, and it might just appear on the venue’s calendar.
There’s also exciting professional hockey at the center; the Mississippi RiverKings lace up their skates for 28 home games each season, playing from October to March.
Groups meeting in DeSoto County should check the arena’s schedule and plan to enjoy an event there.
Entertain Me, Please
The DeSoto Family Theatre stages plays and musicals at the Theatre at Landers Center. Recent productions have included “Beauty and the Beast,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Oliver!” The production company is committed to youth and the arts. It frequently casts children in the shows.
There’s also live music playing throughout DeSoto County, so a glance at an events calendar will keep planners updated on where to take groups for music of every genre. The Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of the blues, so a blues club or other similar venue might be a good choice for a fun night on the town.
Shopping and golf are also popular pursuits in DeSoto County. “We love to say we have antiques to boutiques,” said the CVB’s Carroll. The area also has four 18-hole golf courses, perfect for group outings.
The Whispering Woods Hotel and Conference Center in Olive Branch has 47,000 square feet of meeting space and 180 upscale guest rooms. Meeting planners can choose from 24 meeting room combinations, an executive ballroom, other smaller ballrooms, an amphitheater and breakout rooms.
Whispering Woods staff can arrange its meeting spaces in a variety of configurations: Conference and hollow-square styles are an ideal setting for about 25 people, a U-shape is perfect for up to 40 people, and theater-style is best suited for large gatherings.
The International Association of Conference Centers has certified the Executive Conference Center at Whispering Woods.
Administrators and staff from colleges, universities, corporations and organizations in the region meet at Whispering Woods for business. Traveling sports teams, colleges and youth also book stays. Baseball and soccer practice fields on the property allow for recreational sports time after business meetings. The hosts also invite guests to try out the pool, the golf course, the fitness center or the walking trails.
Spotlight on DeSoto County Convention and Visitors Bureau /Tourism Association:
Location: Northwest Mississippi, near the Tennessee-Arkansas border
Access: Interstate 55, Memphis International Airport
Major Meeting Spaces: Landers Center, Whispering Woods Hotel and Conference Center
Hotels: 38 hotels
Off-site Venues: 38 hotels
Contact Info: 662-393-8770