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Highway improvements and emphasis on technology jobs spurring growth

Business 2000: North Mississippi

STARKVILLE — Major highway improvements in a 24-mile strip around Starkville combined

with the offerings of the Mississippi Research and Technology Park have set the stage for increasing

economic development in the Golden Triangle area.

John J. Rucker, executive director of the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority

(EDA), said the complete network of highways now in place around Starkville is something that has

been vastly needed in recent years. A lot of new growth and development has been seen along the

new roadways, and the transportation improvements are also expected to help attract warehouse

distribution businesses.

“The groundwork there is going to be of assistance to us,” Rucker said. “The most exciting thing to

come out of this will be enticing and encouraging technology development particularly in the

Mississippi Research and Technology Park. We anticipate further success in the information

technology arena primarily. We are working with several information-based companies in hopes

that next year we will be lucky enough to land one that will be the catalyst for further development.”

A new, 27-acre e-commerce park is under construction at the new interchange of New Mississippi

25 and Mississippi 12 in the proximity of the Bryan Airport. A five-acre outparcel is available for a

hotel and restaurant establishment. Rucker said the e-commerce park will be an

aesthetically-pleasing, sparsely-developed site with walkways running through a campus-like

setting.

The site is adjacent to the 200-acre industrial park which could provide the space for warehouse

and distribution facilities to meet the needs of the e-commerce industries the EDA hopes to attract.

“E-commerce, of course, is utmost in our mind because we have the technology up here through

tech transfer from Mississippi State to share our knowledge with those who want to establish

e-commerce trade,” Rucker said. “I guarantee you it will snowball when you get the first big

e-commerce business in here.”

Rucker said there have already been a number of businesses started at the Golden Triangle

Enterprise Center, a technology business incubator. Three businesses have graduated from the

incubator, and five others are currently being incubated. One more is expected to come on board

this month. Most of the businesses are involved with software development. For more information,

visit the Web sites www.oceda.org, www.gtec.org and cebsite.org.

“We have positioned ourselves by developing capacity to be able to be competitive in the

information and science technology arena, which is the fastest growing segment of our economy,”

Rucker said. “We are specifically interested in the information technologies which include

telecommunications and anything that relates to computers. Secondly, we are focusing in on

automotive companies that provide supplies to industries that have located in and around our part

of the country.”

In Columbus the biggest news on the economic development front has been the announcement of

two new electrical generating plants that are expected to begin construction in 2000. The projects

range in cost from between $300 and $400 million, and would generate an estimated 500-600 jobs

over the two-year construction period, and 50 permanent jobs.

Charleigh Ford Jr., executive director of the Columbus-Lowdnes Economic Development

Authority (CLEDA), said the EDA has adopted an ambitious set of goals for 2000. A strong effort

will be made to market a speculative building at the Golden Triangle Industrial Park. Four other

main goals are supporting existing industry, recruiting new industry, perpetuating the regional

concept of economic development and working to make CLEDA more efficient and more

inclusive.

“We are wrapping up a good year, and hope we can build on that and make it even better in

2000,” Ford said.

Tupelo is another north Mississippi city with big plans for 2000. Harry Martin, president of the

Community Development Foundation (CDF), said labor-intensive jobs are going offshore and must

be replaced with mid-tech jobs.

“Mid-tech jobs increase not just the number of jobs but the quality of pay for those jobs,” Martin

said. “Instead of low pay, we’re talking about middle pay. Many communities don’t worry until

jobs leave. We try to be proactive, and be out there working on it before they leave. We call it

proactive marketing.”

The CDF has a goal of creating 1,000 manufacturing jobs and 1,700 service jobs for a total

increase of 2,700 jobs in 2000.

“And we think we’ll get those,” Martin said. “We are optimistic about the new year. We see it as

another year of growth.”

Tupelo interim mayor Paul Eason agreed that the economic forecast should be good for Tupelo in

2000.

“We have new stores that will be opening, new subdivisions that are being built, and the CDF is

always very proactive in locating new industries and new jobs in our area,” Eason said. “Our new

fairgrounds development should be coming out of the ground, which should give our downtown

area new impetus. Tupelo’s ad valorem tax rate is one of the lowest in the state, which is attractive

to new development. And our school board is in the process of making plans to start spending

$29.5 million on new schools scattered around the city. I think the outlook is very, very good.”

Corinth also expects significant growth in 2000. Charles Gulotta, president of The Alliance, said

they are close to securing a world-class manufacturer in Corinth, and hope have a positive

announcement on that by May.

“We are blessed in Corinth to have some of best manufacturers in North America located here,”

Gulotta said. “We have some major existing industry expansions we hope to see completed in the

year 2000. We also have many retail developments going on right now which will keep shoppers in

town and attract new shoppers. And we hope to see the completion of the planning and full funding

for our Civil War interpretive center, a $6-million National Park Service project.”

When the new interpretive center is completed, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 visitors per year

are expected. Other recreational developments include the new 2,500-acre Tuscumbia Wildlife

Management Area and the $6.5-million Crossroad Arena which opened recently.

Gulotta said Corinth advertises its tourism offerings, and receives more than 20,000 tourism

responses annually.

“We advertise and market in 20 publications in the U.S., and are generating a lot of visits from

that,” Gulotta said. “We hope to see continued investment in the downtown area where many

buildings are being renovated and occupied. The downtown area itself is turning into a significant

tourist draw.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

About Becky Gillette

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