Kelly Davis Cress is Cleveland, Mississippi through and through. And, through her profession, she is poised to bring many benefits to her hometown.
Primarily through her work with the Grammy Museum slated to open soon in the Mississippi Delta town, Cress’ tireless efforts will soon pay dividends for the community—and also the entire state and nation.
A contract lobbyist since 2008, Kelly Davis Cress started her career with her alma mater, Delta State University in Cleveland, working as a recruiter and admissions counselor for the school. Jackson, Mississippi—the state capitol—was part of the territory she covered.
“During that I time I had a friend who worked for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, which was the non-profit organization started by Attorney General Mike Moore with the tobacco settlement money the state received,” Cress says. “And since I was mainly meeting and working with high school students with my recruiting, I was a good match for what the Partnership was doing. Of course, all of its work was funded through the Mississippi Legislature and the new job required my spending a good deal of time at the Capitol.”
Cress stayed with the Partnership for about four years until she married and had her first child. The new mother decided she needed a break from the world of lobbying. The hiatus didn’t last very long, however.
“Lobbying is a very intense job and lifestyle,” she says. “A lot of people don’t realize just how time-demanding it is and how many research and learning is involved. Still, after about three months home with my son, I began to miss working and got my real estate license with the help of my husband and father-in-law (Blake and Gary Cress, respectively, two well-known and respected Jackson-area real estate business leaders) and helped them for a while.”
The demanding world of politics was still calling Cress, though. After her second child was old enough to enter pre-school, she returned to the world of lobbying in 2008, and one of her current projects will be extremely beneficial to Cleveland.
“I’m part of the team of lobbyists for the Cleveland Music Foundation which was formed to bring the Grammy Museum to the town,” she says. “Without a doubt it’s the most rewarding work I’ve done so far. Whenever I drive by the future site of the museum, which broke ground in June of last year, I always feel like I’ve played a small role in its coming to fruition. ”
Cress said that while the museum will bring tourism to Cleveland, and the state, it’s often challenging in getting other areas of Mississippi on board with the project.
“A great deal of local money has been raised towards the funding,” she says, “but part of my job is persuading and convincing legislators who, for instance, represent people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to also assist in the funding and support the project. I have to demonstrate to these representatives the full economic effects and benefits of the museum for the entire state, not just to Cleveland or the Delta. They, too, are trying to get their own projects funded. So it requires a good deal of education on my part, and theirs.”
Very aware of the common stereotypes in the lobbying profession, Cress claims that most of these are unfair and untrue.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about my job is that we only work a couple days out of the year,” Cress says, “when we’re not entertaining people, of course. Maybe many years ago that was more accurate but it’s not the case at all today. During legislative sessions there are extremely long hours at the Capitol: your day can often start from sunrise to nine o’clock at night. You’re also the voice of the issues your client wants conveyed and addressed so you have to know these issues inside and out; a lobbyist has to research and then be able to explain their findings clearly and succinctly.
“It’s also a ‘people person’ type of career,” Cress continues. “You have to really like those you work with and for—and you have to gain their total trust. In lobbying, one false statement can sink a whole project and you can end up losing your credibility. You have to be humble. A lobbyist also leaves their personal beliefs at the door of the Capitol and only expresses the views of the client; you have to be objective.”
Cress says the majority of her client list is made up of non-profits as well as health care, juvenile justice and economic development entities, among others. While she loves her work and her career, Cress says her most important job is that of being a good mother.
“That’s the top priority,” she emphasizes. “I really have no desire to really become some huge lobbying firm. I have a personal relationship with my existing clients because they talk directly to me and can get things done quickly. Plus, I’m able to take care of and be with my family—Blake, and the boys, Davis and Cole.”
Kelly Davis Cress will no doubt be a fixture on the Mississippi political and economic scene for a long time. And with her straight priorities and fixed determination, the sky is probably the limit— which is a good thing for her home town and state.
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