- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The hosts of a new HGTV show say their program “Home Town” is shining a positive light on their home state.

Erin and Ben Napier live in the south Mississippi city of Laurel, population 18,800. Along with two other couples, they own a downtown general store that focuses on American-made goods.

The Napiers are both in their early 30s. She is a graphic artist who has blogged about the blessings of life, and he is a woodworker with a history degree and a lumberjack beard. They came to the attention of an HGTV executive who followed Erin Napier on Instagram.

In their show that premiered in March, the couple restores old houses with high ceilings and comfortable front porches.

The Napiers spoke Thursday to hundreds of people in Jackson during a meeting of Mississippi Economic Council, the state chamber of commerce.

“This is a show that is 100 percent positive about the state of Mississippi. There will not be anything negative or salacious or anything like that,” Ben Napier, a former United Methodist youth minister, said to applause from the audience. “We could use the positive light here in Mississippi.”

Erin replied, “Yes, we could.”

Laurel was founded in 1882 and flourished for decades because of the timber industry. In the 1940s, oil and gas drilling added jobs. Urban renewal in the 1970s stripped the downtown of much of its charm by covering old buildings with ugly metal facades, said Erin Napier, who called that the “worst thing that ever happened to Laurel.”

She said by the time she was a teenager growing up there, downtown was in the doldrums: “There was no retail. There was no dining. There was no fun.”

That started to change in about 2007 with development of Laurel Main Street, a group that promotes downtown development, Erin Napier said. Some young people who had grown up in Laurel decided to move back there and start businesses after college.

Ben Napier - who grew up in Collins, another small town in south Mississippi - said people from small communities often take their talents and move to bigger cities to earn a living.

“There’s nothing wrong with that - with moving on. But sometimes you leave behind something really great,” he said. “So, Laurel is experiencing a major rebirth. Like a lot of small towns and a lot of downtowns across Mississippi and across the U.S., it’s cool again to come and live in these little towns, little historic towns.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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