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
“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
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 email@example.com.