An entrepreneur with an interest in engineering and theatre has used his business to creatively revitalize his hometown of Baldwyn.
As president and owner of Quail Ridge Engineering, Clark Richey has brought industry to the small town. Baldwyn has a population of approximately 3,000 people with a medium household income of around $30,000, according to the United States Census Bureau’s latest statistics.
“When I came back to Baldwyn about 20 years ago, I knew I needed to invest in my hometown,” Richey said.
Quail Ridge Engineering designs and supplies material handling systems and equipment, from standard belt conveyors to custom process equipment.
Using his some of the money earned from his mechanical engineering business, Richey bought several historic properties around Baldwyn and renovated them for commercial use.
The first property restored was an old movie theater that he converted into a performing arts center. Now named The Claude Gentry Theatre, the building has hosted several theatre performances, including a Western stage production written by Richie called “The Peacemakers.”
“Growing up, I always liked Westerns,” he said, “but I had never seen a Western musical. So I thought to myself, why don’t I write a stage Western for the first performance of the theater? It was a big hit, and we even filmed a version of it to release on DVD.”
Although stage productions have stopped for the past two years because of COVID-19, live stage readings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3 and 4 at 7 p.m.
In addition to his other business ventures, Richey has also opened an art gallery, a 50s-style diner, and a comic book shop, all downtown.
“When a few other business owners and I came up with a plan to restore Baldwyn, our mission was to create a dining and arts community,” he said. “I would run a business for a while, and then I would lease it to someone who was interested in taking it over. Just like a product in mechanical engineering has little pieces that come together to form a working device, different businesses and people in a town come together to form a functioning community.”
With the motivation to write since childhood, Richey has continued his passion for storytelling through his column in “The Baldwyn News” called “Talk of the The Town.” More recently, with help from friends in the film industry, he has stepped into the realms of acting and directing.
His latest project, “Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Merriweather Lewis,” is an imagining of four possible scenarios surrounding the death of the famed explorer who helped map the territory gained from the Louisiana Purchase. In addition to directing the film, Richey plays Lewis’ exploring partner William Clark.
“I had a lot of fun working on the film,” said Richey. “In some ways, directing people on how to do things isn’t really that different from telling people what to do on a movie set. All of my friends who had worked on movies before were surprised how calm I stayed, especially when we did most of the filming in the woods during the winter with farm animals running around everywhere. The best part of it all for me was being able to spend the day with John Schneider who played Bo Duke in “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Through all his business and creative projects, he said the support and inspiration he has gained from others has inspired him.
“I gain a little bit of inspiration from everyone I come across,” he said. “My friends, Amye Gousset and PJ Leonard, really pushed me to follow my dream of making a movie. Another person who has been important was an a major influence of me was my English Composition II professor, Tony Franks.
“When I took English Comp I my first semester at Ole Miss, my professor told me I couldn’t write. But when I took Mr. Franks class that following spring, he saw something in my ability for storytelling and pushed me to keep writing. His encouragement has stuck with me all these years.”
Though now long retired as a professor, Franks said he still thinks fondly of Richey’s work.
“Clark was one of the best writers I had in that class,” said Franks. “There got to a point where there wasn’t much left that I had to correct on his papers. So eventually I told him, just turn in the rest of your assignments for the semester, and you don’t have to come to class anymore. Now with how successful his businesses are, I would say he is as adept at marketing as he is at writing.”
When it comes to writing and business, Richie said it is important to know your target audience.
“People think if you have a good idea, you will automatically be successful in running a business,” he said. “The most important thing is connecting with your customers and to be prepared to talk about what you are trying to sell. Never stop finding ways to refine your skills.”