Vicksburg — Expansions of existing industry, a new convention center downtown, significant new retail construction activity, and recent growth in gaming wins are all positive factors that are buoying the economy of this Mississippi River town that is home to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) Waterways Experiment Station.
“All of our economic signs are good,” said Jimmy Ware, director of the Warren County Economic Development Foundation. “Unemployment is low, right at 5%. Like the rest of Mississippi, our per capita income is up, and our median family income is up. Retail sales are continuing to grow, and the economy over here is currently very strong.”
Ware said there has been recent growth in the gaming market, with March breaking the record for gaming wins from the four casino boats. Gaming wins went to more than $20 million, and have been averaging between $15 and $20 million per month.
The city has a new convention center downtown, and is seeing a lot of new retail activity. Construction is nearly complete on a Wal-Mart Supercenter expected to open this summer. A strip shopping center located near the Supercenter will contain several new retail outlets. And new construction activity is springing up around the new district office of the COE on U.S. 80.
At the Ceres Industrial Park on I-20, Simpson Duravent is doubling the size of their manufacturing facility, adding 300,000 square feet of space. The expansion of the company that manufactures heating pipes will add 128 employees. LeTourneau, which manufactures offshore oil rigs that are floated down the river to New Orleans for delivery to the North Sea, reopened two years ago and now employs more than 1,000 people.
Another local company that has been growing rapidly is Cooper Lighting. The company which manufactures lighting fixtures has gone from employment of 300 in 1992 to the present level of 950 employees.
Other existing industries include the rubber recycling firms U.S. Rubber Reclaimer and Rouse Rubber, and International Paper Co., which has a factory employing 400 to produce paper used to make corrugated boxes.
A recent new industry is Hancor, which manufactures high-density plastic drainage pipes. The plant employs 25 people.
The largest employer in the area continues to be the COE Waterways Experiment Station, one of three COE entities in Vicksburg. The other two are the district offices of the COE, which oversees operations of six district up and down the Mississippi River, and the Vicksburg District, which has oversight over projects in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Waterways Experiment Station employs 1,300 people, and is considered one of the one of most diverse engineering and environmental quality research organizations in the world.
Besides having the brain power represented by 200 Ph.Ds, the experiment station has four super computers and the largest centrifuge in the world.
Spokesman Wayne Stroupe said the experiment station attracts scientists and engineers from across the country. Alumni from colleges in all 50 states are among employees at the experiment station.
Although best known for work involving water hydraulics used for flood control and navigation project planning, the experiment station is also involved in numerous other works including research into military vehicles, earthquake structural stability, wetlands, aquatic plant control, endangered species and structural work with concrete. About 50% of the work done at the experiment station is for the U.S. military.
“You name it, we do it,” Stroupe said. “We have an international reputation in engineering. The Waterways Experiment Station is a very unique facility. I don’t know of any other facility that has such a diverse mission and capability. We were named U.S. Army R&D (research and development) organization of the year in 1996 and 1997. It is a pretty good star for Mississippi to have a facility like this. Of the 1,300 employees, over 700 are engineers and scientists.”