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Commercial, residential and infrastructure development to serve growing population

Business 2000: The Coast

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — While the Coast isn’t expected to have any major new casino

developments in the year 2000, growth continues at a rapid pace with residential and commercial

real estate developments combined with a large number of government infrastructure improvement

projects.

In Jackson County a $30-million Pascagoula Port harbor improvement project is underway that will

deepen and widen the channel, serving major industries such as the Chevron refinery, Mississippi

Phosphates and Friede Goldman Halter. Major industrial employers are continuing to implement

about $850 million in capital expansion projects.

“Those are projects that have been underway now for a better part of a year, but are still being

implemented,” said Terry Carter, president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of

Commerce. “It is taking time to bring them on line. With those capital expansions we hope to see

the maritime and oil industry ramp up with increased employment in the county in the year 2000.

New jobs created may reach 1,500 to 2,000.”

With oil prices at a post-World War II high, that bodes well for the major shipyard and oil

exploration supply industries in Pascagoula such as Friede Goldman Halter and Ingalls Shipbuilding.

Ingalls also has significant government shipbuilding projects underway, and will be constructing two

cruise liners.

Carter said the key to Jackson County’s growth in the year 2000 will be completion of a large

number of new houses and apartments that are either under construction or on the drawing board.

“The construction of about 2,000 new apartments and single family homes in Jackson County will

be an economic boon to the county,” Carter said. “We hope to be able to attract a considerable

portion of the almost 9,000 employees working in the county and residing out of the county to live

in Jackson County. That would bring home about $180 million in annual payrolls.”

People spend their paychecks where they live, not where they work. So providing more housing for

workers would substantially increase the amount of money flowing through the county’s economy.

“If we are right on our assumption about what will happen with housing, this county is really going

to grow in the year 2000 and the year 2001,” Carter said. “It is a very logical point of reasoning

that when these new houses and apartments are constructed during the year 2000, we should then

begin to see an increase in the retail and commercial sectors of the economy as the residential

population base increases.”

While there are still concerns about a tight labor market in Jackson County, Carter said he expects

the unemployment rate in the year 2000 to level out at about 4%. He doesn’t see the addition of

1,500 to 2,000 job causing the unemployment rate to dip to a level that would cause great concern

about labor shortages.

In Harrison County, work continues on major highway improvement projects such as the widening

of Cowan-Loraine Road, a major east-west artery that will provide an improved hurricane

evacuation route for the Coast. While the casino building boom seen in the late 1990s has abated,

new commercial and residential construction needed to support the Coast’s rapidly growing

population continues at a rapid pace.

Construction of new retail outlets continues at the Crossroads Shopping Center at the intersection

of U.S. 49 and Interstate 10 in Gulfport, about $90 million worth of medical construction is

underway, and numerous office complexes are under construction. About 1,800 apartment units

are under construction, and there is housing activity at about 20 subdivisions across the county.

Steve Dickerson, business development coordinator for the City of Gulfport, said he believes the

year 2000 will bring good growth, although perhaps not quite as high a percentage as seen in the

past few years.

“We don’t have indication that there is going to be any let up in the growth we’ve had down here,”

Dickerson said. “We have several things in the mill for next year that we think will be good for us.”

The City of Gulfport is ready to close on purchasing the Orange Grove Utility Company for $34

million. Dickerson said a lot of water mains in the utility district serving the annexed north Gulfport

area will be upgraded to meet standards for fire protection. Water, sewage and drainage upgrades

are also planned in other areas of the city, particularly older areas of Gulfport.

A new technology park is planned in Gulfport. The city has completed a lease on the former Food

World building located on U.S. 49, and is in the process of subleasing space at the center to Xerox

and Oscar Robertson Document Handling. The park will involve businesses using technology

transfer from NASA on satellite imaging.

“These services will be available only a few places in the entire world,” Dickerson said. “We have

been talking to major national corporations about this development for some time. We feel

confident that once the first phase is completed, they will come pouring in here.”

Gulfport is also working to put together a $50-million federal courthouse project that would be

located at the site of the city’s library near U.S. 90.

In Hancock County, officials are continuing to implement a “Smart Growth” initiative funded by a

grant from the Gulf of Mexico program.

“We hope to see continued prosperity and smart growth along with the prosperity,” said Amy

Gregory, executive director of the Hancock Chamber of Commerce. “The continued growth is

inevitable, and we have a lot of people in the community and elected officials who are working

towards the goal of smart growth. They want to see planned growth where we can preserve our

quality of life and the resources we have here.”

Hancock County’s Stennis International Airport could be a site of major growth in the year 2000.

Stennis has been considered as a feeder airport to relieve congestion at the New Orleans

International Airport, and has also been mentioned as a possible future site for landing of the new

generation Space Shuttle.

Stennis Airport manager Bill Cotter said they are uncertain if someone in Washington has plans to

develop Stennis into a regional airport, or if officials in Louisiana are using the threat of losing

airport business to Mississippi as a way to provoke action to improve the New Orleans Airport.

Cotter say that, thus far, no one has discussed the regional airport idea with elected officials and

citizens of Hancock County.

The airport is keeping an eye on development of the new generation Space Shuttle, and airport

requirements to serve the new shuttle.

“In our master plan currently being developed we are definitely trying to put ourselves in position to

take advantage of any opportunity out there,” Cotter said. “The Space Shuttle engines are tested in

Stennis Space Center. To be able to have the Space Shuttle come back here, land, and pull engines

off for next test, might be an advantage.”

In January the FAA will start installation of an instrument landing system at Stennis Airport. Cotter

said that once the instrument landing system is in commission by August, being an all-weather

airport will increase the amount of traffic at Stennis International.

“That’s big news for us,” he said. “Once the instrument landing system is up and running, we will

become a priority airport for a lot of people.”

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

About Becky Gillette

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