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Annexation proposal sees opposition

Wayne County development on upswing

WAYNESBORO — Every now and then, misfortune can have a positive outcome.

Recently, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) flew into the airport near Waynesboro. His King Air landed fine, but it almost didn’t stop before running off the airport’s rather short runway.

After speaking in Waynesboro, Joe Johnson, executive director of the Wayne County Economic Development District (WCEDD), accompanied Lott to a speaking engagement on the Gulf Coast. As Lott talked about rural development, he mentioned his scare back in Wayne County.

“Everybody turned around and looked at me. I said, ‘It’s true,’”Johnson said. “Senator Lott told me, ‘I think we can find the money to lengthen your runway.’”

The municipal airport improvements, which include lengthening the runway by 2,000 feet and widening it another 25 feet, is just one of many projects that are either complete, underway or planned in and around Waynesboro.

Expansions of existing business and industry have been numerous. A $1-million bond was approved to build a 40,000-square-foot warehouse at Sunbeam, Wayne County’s biggest employer. The plant is one of the major producers of electric blankets in the U.S. The bid on the project has been let to contractor Larry Sumrall. In a separate project, Sunbeam also saw major roofing work worth $750,000.

Poultry processor Marshal Durbin just completed a $2-million expansion of its hatchery, which was built just four years ago. The hatchery’s area was doubled by the expansion.

Chemical processor Odom Industries received $1.25 million in grant funding for a new rail spur and other upgrades. The projects were needed to bring in a new clay product the company will use to mix with chemicals.

Quality Plywood recently completed a 16,000-square-foot warehouse and finishing facility. Future expansion is already planned for the company that ships its wood products all over the U.S.

In new construction, Waynesboro’s new jail/courtroom complex is nearing completion. The 126-bed jail and courtroom cost $4.5 million and are expected to be finished in October of this year.

Magnolia Construction is building a new facility in the industrial park. The firm acquired the land about two weeks ago, and construction started immediately.

The construction company’s coming means the 278-acre park has gotten down to only 40 acres available. According to Johnson, site selection for a new park is underway. While he couldn’t be specific on an exact site, he did say it would be within the proposed Waynesboro annexation, which if approved would quadruple the geographic area of Waynesboro.

The Waynesboro annexation is an attempt by the city to extend its reach out to U.S. 84, which is currently being four-laned, and a bypass is under construction north of the current city limits. Approximately $185 million has been spent on the bypass and four-laning project in Wayne County alone. When completed, U.S. 84 will be four-laned from the Alabama State Line at Wayne County across Mississippi to Natchez. The bypass, which is scheduled for completion this fall, is largely welcomed by the city, since the current route of U.S. 84 goes through the heart of the city, bringing everything from semi-trucks to motorcycles, and about 11,000 of them per day. Still, the city doesn’t want to be left on the wayside by the new bypass and lose potential visitors and their wallets, thus annexation has its proponents.

However, it also has its detractors. In March a lawsuit was filed to block the annexation. The complaints boil down to a familiar debate: higher taxes or improved services and infrastructure.

While attention is being drawn to the city limits of Waynesboro, eyes are also watching downtown, which is on the threshold of seeing a major facelift. A 16-block area of downtown has been designated for renovations that are still in the planning stage. However, infrastructure work is underway on Court Street. And the county and city have already passed a seven-year exemption for businesses moving into the revitalized zone.

“I’m very pleased with the direction we’re going,” Johnson said. “Sales taxes continue to increase, which is always a positive sign.

“Oil drilling is going on all over the county. I was recently told that Wayne County is now the top oil producing county in the state. I don’t have that as fact, but we’re always in the three to five range normally anyway.

“And there will definitely be more expansions.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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