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Plans for Mississippi River bridge and NAFTA highway figure prominently for 2000

Business 2000: The Delta & River Cities

GREENVILLE — It takes many years for projects such as the new $200-million Mississippi River

crossing from Greenville to Lake Village, Ark., to be constructed, but local officials are encouraged

that first-year funding is in place for the project.

“This is one of the cleaner and easier places to put a bridge across the Mississippi River,”

Greenville Mayor Paul Artman said. “The current bridge needs to be replaced. It is almost

60-years-old. The first-year funding will go for right-of-way acquisitions and utility adjustments.”

Right-of-way is also being acquired for a new bypass that will connect Leland, Greenville and the

new bridge. The area also hopes to benefit from the proposed Interstate 69 project, the NAFTA

highway that is to run from Canada to Mexico.

“We feel like we are going to be in a real catbird’s seat as far as transportation infrastructure,”

Artman said. “It is only on paper at this point, but it is moving forward faster than any of us

expected it to do.”

In the past four years Greenville has seen rapid growth with the addition of more than 2,000

industrial jobs. There has been a steady increase in sales tax collections, and officials expect to see

a dramatic increase in retail developments in 2000.

Dean Morganti, economic development assistant for the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of

Commerce, said they are also expecting big things for the Mississippi River bridge project and the

NAFTA Highway, which is expected to cut through Bolivar County.

“One of our biggest problems has been lack of good transportation infrastructure,” Morganti said.

“Four-lane roads and a bridge across river will bring a lot of development. We’ve already had

people tell us they are interested in the area for that reason.”

In Belzoni, known as the Catfish Capitol, employment in the catfish industry is growing with a

$5.5-million expansion of Confish’s Belzoni plant plus additions to the company’s main plant in

Isola that will be complete during the first quarter of 2000. Confish’s workforce of 770 employees

is expected to increase to about 1,000 with the expansion.

“So, we see that as a very good way to kick off the new year, and hope that will be indicative of

the progress we will make throughout the coming year,” said Gene Luster, executive director of the

Belzoni/Humphreys Development Foundation. “We also have some major educational projects

going on. Education is such a key issue with regard to development.”

Aesthetics are also critical to future growth. With that in mind the development foundation and

Entergy have just funded a new round of downtown renovation.

“It has helped us to stabilize the central business district in Belzoni,” Luster said. “For a community

our size, we have probably one of the highest occupancy rates in the state. There are no available

buildings in our downtown. We have an intact and well-maintained central shopping district, and it

is a big factor in a lot of things we do.”

Vicksburg also has big hopes for 2000, especially with the return of Jimmy Heidel, former head of

the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, to head up economic

development.

“One of the big things that has happened is that we were able to get Jimmy Heidel to return to

Vicksburg, and we can see only good things happen as a result of that in the year 2000 and

beyond,” said Vicksburg Mayor Robert M. Walker. “Our economy, which has been expanding

quite a bit in the past few years, will continue to grow not just in the service sector but

manufacturing, as well.”

The Yazoo Diversion Canal that provides access to the port is being lengthened and widened which

is expected to boost port activity and provide openings for port expansions. Officials are also

continuing to work towards creating an industrial park at the site of the Vicksburg Municipal

Airport.

Mike Chaney, economic development chairman for Warren County Chamber of Commerce, said

that the area’s lack of affordable housing — and its impact on the labor market — is the current

biggest hindrance to economic development. But private industry is working to solve that problem.

Chaney said a new industry is expected to be announced early in the year that will employ as many

as 600 people.

He added that with Jimmy Heidel returning, more developments are also likely to be in the works.

“Jimmy served as our executive vice president or director for eight years before going to work with

the state,” Chaney said. “We hired him back simply because we can utilize his expertise

immediately. He is familiar with our area. He is the most connected economic developer in the U.S.

right now, and it is just plain logic to try to get him back.”

Natchez is also hoping to have new business development announcements in early 2000 that would

involve the creation of 100 to 300 jobs.

“We have two or three opportunities for new businesses with good employment that we are

currently working with,” said Natchez Mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown. “We are hoping all of them

materialize. We are also continuing our expansion of our historic downtown district, which is going

well. Our new marketplace is open, the new convention center and community center are under

construction, and we are renovating the city auditorium. All of those projects are within a half block

of each other in the area we call the Convention Center Complex. This is a $12-million project well

underway which will hopefully be completed in the year 2000.”

Natchez has tax incentives in place that encourage downtown historic district renovations, and there

is interest in two shopping centers on the edge of downtown. The business community is expanding

rapidly on bypass corridors with a number of new businesses opening.

“The retail trade is growing nicely, and tourism is progressing at a record pace,” Brown said. “It is

showing phenomenal growth. And the opportunities we have with new and expanding industries we

hope will come to fruition. Prospects are good for the new millennium in City of Natchez. We are

always looking for a new smokestack, but those kinds of developments are pretty hard to find.”

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

About Becky Gillette

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