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Pearl River County community experiences significant development

There`s nothing small about the growth in Picayune

American Heritage Dictionary definition of picayune: of little value or importance (adjective); a Spanish-American half-piece formerly used in part of the southern United States (noun).

picayune — There`s nothing picayune about the growth here.

The city has a 100% building occupancy rate downtown, few vacant buildings anywhere in town and 17 real estate developments in various states of competition in and around this city of 13,000.

“The real estate and retail trade are both doing really well,” said Picayune Mayor Woody Spiers. “Retail growth is just extremely strong. Sales tax collections are way up, and housing starts are at an all-time high.”

Spiers attributes the city`s growth to its small-town atmosphere combined with its proximity to New Orleans, the Coast and the Stennis Space Center. A large number of residents commute to work at Stennis, south Louisiana or the Coast.

“Our location and accessibility to jobs in those areas has made a tremendous impact,” Spiers said. “Being on Interstate 59 has helped us. Our location has stimulated our growth due to the outflow of people from New Orleans. Now we`re seeing people who settled in Slidell and St. Tammany Parish making the move on up to Picayune. It is primarily our location, a good highway system and a good school system that have stimulated our growth.”

“It is next to impossible to find a house here,” said Picayune city manager Kay Johnson. “There is a tremendous growth in Picayune because we are the first major Mississippi city north of New Orleans and Slidell on Interstate 59. So it is an easy commute.”

Johnson said that although Picayune encompasses 14 square miles, the city is approaching build out. It is anticipated that all land available for development will be used by the year 2001.

A lot of the new housing developments currently under construction are near Picayune outside the city limits.

The city is building an airport, several highway transportation improvements are underway, the police department facilities are being expanded, and major recreational improvements include adding 53 more acres for soccer, baseball, softball and other sporting activities to the city`s Friendship Park. The recreational improvements will cost an estimated $3.5 million.

The airport will have a 5,000-foot runway, and is expected to open in August.

“We`re pretty excited about that,” Johnson said. “We`re still working on plans as to an airport manager, and are interviewing fixed base operators. There are a lot of local pilots and plane owners who have indicated they want to use the new airport.”

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (DOT) if five-laning Highway 11. The project will include a park area next to a new bridge over Boley Creek. DOT is also making improvements on other major transportation corridors through the city such as Highway 43.

The city recently got approval of a local and private bill that places a 2% tax on hotels, and a 1% tax on prepared food. The funds will be used for economic development and recreation. City leaders are touring civic and recreation centers across the state before finalizing plans to improve recreational facilities.

Infrastructure improvements recently to the Picayune Industrial Park include a new 12-inch water line loop. Paving, sewage and drainage projects are also underway.

The city has added a new position for a city planner, hiring Sue Chamberlain from the Gulf Regional Planning Commission. A new city engineer and chief financial officer have also been hired recently. Johnson said the team of managers will help plan for the growth coming to Picayune instead of just reacting to it.

“With the growth, we have to be able to plan for it now to avoid crisis management in the future,” Johnson said. “That isn`t always easy to do, but that is where we`re headed. I don`t think Picayune has seen traffic jams before, but we`re having them now. We feel like people are coming here for the small town atmosphere, the low crime rate, and the beautiful environment. We don`t want to lose that with all the people coming in. That sounds simple, but it is not.

In addition to a number of new small retail and service-oriented businesses, sales tax increases have been boosted by the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The city also has two new hotels.

Sherman Gaspard, director of the Pearl River County Development Association, said a very large industrial expansion is in the works that is expected to be announced in early summer. The county has 40 industries, and an unemployment rate of four percent.

“We have a good labor market, and a good quality of life,” Gaspard said. “We have excellent industrial training through the Pearl River Community College that is available to any industry either in house or at the college. Pearl River County is a non-union county which is an asset to a lot of companies that look at us.

“The community college is an industry in itself. As a matter fact, it is the largest industry we have in the county with probably over 400 employees. I do consider it an industry, and it is still growing. I guess in the last several years about $20 million has been spent at that college.”

Gaspard expects that the improvements to the industrial park and the new airport will improve the area`s ability to attract new industry. He said the new airport may get some business diverted from the crowded Lakefront Airport in New Orleans.

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