natchez — The mid to late 1980s were a time of economic decline in Natchez and Adams County in large part because of a downturn in the oil industry. In the 1990s, efforts by community leaders to diversify the area’s economy are paying economic rewards.
“Our primary task is to try to reverse the economic trend in this area,” said Andy Quartey, executive director of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Agency. “We’re growing the area, while we retain the jobs that we have. We’re attracting different types of industries, growing the tourism industry and promoting the area as what we like to call a small metropolitan country setting.”
Quartey said when the oil economy bottomed out in the mid 1980s, community leaders in the area recognized they had to do more to diversity the area’s economy.
Current projects that are fulfilling that goal include a $5-million project to improve the port, and conversion of the Belwood Golf and Country Club at the port into an industrial park. A new Belwood is being built which will have homes located around the golf course.
“We are receiving a lot of inquires from industrial prospects throughout the country who are interested in locating on the Mississippi River,” Quartey said. “Moving the golf course into the county does a couple of thing. We free up land at the port for industrial development, and the new golf course creates another economic/recreational development in the county. So you will immediately see the tax base for the county being enhanced. You’re going to see people drawn to a new residential area. Those are all pluses for us. It also gives a spark for creating development on the south side of our county.”
In 1997, Adams County received a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant for $597,000 to purchase the Belwood Golf and Country Club. Quartey said the grant sparked a whole new development process.
Improvements are currently underway at the port that will enhance the bulk cargo loading facility, improving the port’s ability to load and unload commodities.
Pat Murphy, port director for the Natchez-Adams County Port Commission, said the new bulk cargo facility will be 400 feet long by 54 feet wide. It will be able to handle two barges at a time in addition to the two barges that can be served at a time at the present bulk cargo operation. A liquid loading dock is capable of handling one barge at a time.
“In just a short amount of time we are expecting for our tonnage to probably double from today,” said Murphy. “We’re handling 300,000 tons per year, and are hoping it will double within a very short period of time. We will be making an impact on southwestern Mississippi and central Louisiana on being able to handle a wide variety of cargos that we don’t have the time to handle now at the present general cargo dock.”
Murphy said the port improvements combined with the new industrial park at the port will give new opportunities to attract industry. He said there should be a very significant job impact from the improvements. Currently the port employs 17 people.
While most of the state has unemployment levels so low that it is a negative factor attracting new industry, Adams County’s unemployment rate is 7.8. Quartey said Natchez offers a strong labor market.
“Many, many segments of our country as well as areas of our state are experiencing limited labor,” Quartey said. “Natchez and Adams County and most of southwest Mississippi do have a labor pool of 76,000 people. When you look at Mississippi as a whole, the central, south and southeast are a little ahead of us with reference to development. That suggests that now is time for southwest to grow because labor availability is high, which is a drawing card for industry. The key here is that as we move into the next millennium, the labor force may be tied up in most of the rest of the state, but not in Natchez and Adams County.”
Quartey said he feels good about the direction of Adams County.
“We are now growing toward a multi-faceted community in the sense that tourism is a strong industry for us, manufacturing is also a strong industry for us, and the retail industry is holding its own,” he said. “We are located right on the Mississippi River and, as you know, commerce on the river is good for any industry which is dependent on river transportation. We also have training programs of the type that industry would require. The state offers a real solid training program through junior college. And here in Adams County we have a unique training program run by local manufacturers that was started four years ago. Private industry in Adams County put together a program to train employees to move to the next level. “