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Pine Belt region looks towards developing research and technology parks

Business 2000: South Mississippi

HATTIESBURG — The Area Development Partnership (ADP) hopes to capitalize on the strength

of the area’s polymer industry and the internationally prestigious Polymer Science Department at

the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to develop a research and technology park in 2000.

“We are just beginning to touch the potential the polymer industry has in the Hattiesburg area,” said

Gray Swoope, president of the ADP. “One concept that needs exploring in 2000 is partnering with

USM to develop a research and technology park. This type of development could provide

significant economic impact, and enable the community to keep graduates of the polymer program

here.”

Swoope said the Pine Belt Region has been blessed with a healthy economy in the past few years,

and all indications are that this prosperity will carry through the year 2000 and beyond. The medical

community, the area’s institutions of higher learning, and Camp Shelby are three major components

to the economy that will continue pumping millions of dollars into the community while providing

professional employment.

“The ADP hopes that we can take advantage of this competitive strength and develop more

professional employment opportunities for our people,” Swoope said. “For the last year the ADP

has focused some of its marketing efforts on recruiting jobs in the telecommunications industry to

the area. I’m very optimistic that we will see the results of this effort in 2000. These jobs will

provide professional employment opportunities for many of our young people, as well as part-time

positions for people interested in second incomes or more flexible hours.”

Minimum wage jobs throughout the Pine Belt have been lost to Mexico and elsewhere, and that

trend is expected to continue. But Swoope said the good news is that manufacturing entities located

in the Pine Belt region are making quantum leaps in productivity by investing in new machinery and

equipment.

“Manufacturing entities of the future will typically be capital intensive, but will not require as much

labor,” Swoope said. “Employees of these companies will earn higher incomes, but these jobs will

also demand superior training and skills. That is why workforce development will continue to be a

major factor in 2000.

“There is a wide spread challenge to find skilled workers all over this county. The successful

communities will be the ones that do something to address workforce development. I see our

region benefiting from the implementation of the new Advanced Technology Center in the

Hattiesburg/Forrest County Industrial Park. Improved skills in advanced technologies lead to

increased income.”

Jones County is also interested in promoting high-tech industries. Laurel Mayor Susan Vincent said

plans are being made to work on the design and infrastructure for a new technology park within

next the year.

“In the past Laurel and Jones County have been identified as one of the largest manufacturing areas

in the state,” Vincent said. “The new technology park will probably change the workface in our

community to higher tech, more professional, and better-paying jobs.”

Howard Computers has opened its first retail outlet in the Sawmill Mall in Laurel, and has been

marketing its computers to commercial customers and to the government. Vincent said Howard

Computers is now on the bid list for computers in almost every state in the country.

New commercial developments continue in Laurel, and two new subdivisions are under

construction. Major highway improvement projects will improve access to industrial areas and

downtown, where the mayor expects to see continued redevelopment of historic buildings.

Several large buildings are currently being renovated.

Laurel also has a new $9-million sportsplex whose 50-meter enclosed pool will open next July.

“We hope this will be a mecca for recreation in Mississippi,” Vincent said. “In January 2001 we

will host the state swim championship meet. We also have six tennis tournaments scheduled, and

hosted two state baseball tournaments last summer. We’re looking forward to more in the future.”

Another Pine Belt county that expects continued growth in all sectors of the economy in 2000 is

Lamar County.

“Efforts to recruit new business and industry are going well,” said Blake Wallace, president of the

Lamar County Economic Development District. “Without any type of downturn in the national

economy, I think everything will be as strong or stronger than it was in 1999.”

New businesses continue to spring up along Mississippi 11 and U.S. 98, and housing starts are

averaging about 350 per year. Lamar County is one of the top five fastest growing counties in the

state.

Stone County is also seeing rapid growth. Its population has doubled since 1994.

“We’re in better shape unemployment-wise than we have been since World War II,” says Pal

Roberts, director of the Stone County Economic Development Foundation. “Things look very, very

good for us here. What happens on the Coast affects us because we adjoin them. We have hopes

for continuing growth in the year 2000. We’re not getting the industrial growth we would like, but

our population continues to grow. At one time we were getting 30 new families per month. I

imagine we are getting 15 to 20 families per month now.”

Roberts said land values in the country have probably increased 1,000% in the past 10 years, but

are still lower than on the Coast. Many of Stone County’s new residents are commuters who work

either in Hattiesburg or on the Coast.

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

About Becky Gillette

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