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WorldCom sparks hometown development

CLINTON — With the recent merger of WorldCom and Sprint, and its network sprawling all over the world, how much larger can the telecommunications giant get?

Plenty, said Nancy Lottridge Anderson, CFA, a financial advisor and president of New Perspectives Inc. in Clinton. She is also a contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal.

“At this point, I think WorldCom’s growth will be limited only by its ability to fuel this great machine,” said Anderson. “We have only seen the tip of the iceberg in the telecommunications field. New technologies are changing our world rapidly, and we, as the buying public, are hungry for the products they are selling. We are nowhere near saturation point!”

That’s fine with Clintonians, who are basking in WorldCom’s economic prosperity and the city’s growth.

Tony Greer of Greer Real Estate in Clinton said developers are on track with the numerous housing developments popping up around town — BruenBerg, Oakhurst, Pinehaven, Indian Trails, and Hunters Ridge, to name a few. From $150,000 homes to $450,000 executive spreads, the Clinton real estate inventory has increased, with a broad spectrum of homes from which to choose, he said.

“We’re ahead of schedule on construction of the Clinton North-South Parkway, the road issue we’ve had ongoing for a number of years,” Greer said. “Completion of the parkway will make a tremendous difference in the flow of traffic through town and, of course, will open up the north side for new commercial developments. The catalyst has been the weather. We had very little rainfall and mild temperatures so workers have been able to continue construction all winter.”

WorldCom’s presence has been a drawing card for new restaurant recruits, Greer said.

“We now have Applebee’s, Fazoli’s, and a stand-alone Chick-Fil-A is coming,” Greer said. “New retail development, which is going to be phenomenal, is coming along. Hammett Crossing, an additional 80,000-square-foot retail facility next to the Super Wal-Mart that’s being planned, is being developed by the Spectra Group of Memphis and will attract national tenants.”

Perhaps international tenants will soon spy Clinton as the place to maintain a business. J. Harmon Bays, a financial advisor with Legg Mason Wood Walker, Inc. in Jackson, said WorldCom would continue to grow at a fairly rapid pace.

“I think Bernie’s goal is for WorldCom to be the largest telecommunications company in the world,” said Bays, referring to WorldCom chief Bernie Ebbers. “They are getting closer and closer to that goal. WorldCom is extremely well positioned in the fastest growing segment in telecommunications — the Internet — and Bernie has said on numerous occasions that he will continue to grow the company through acquisitions.”

Last month, shareholders of MCI WorldCom and Sprint overwhelmingly approved the planned $115 billion merger, which will create a more powerful rival to AT&T. The company recently announced several changes, including dropping MCI from its company name, in part attributed to a new marketing campaign geared at “Generation D,” as in Digital, which is also in tandem with the conglomerate’s task to shed its image as simply a telecommunications company.

“There will always be telecom companies that provide just connectivity, dial-up, and other traditional services,” WorldCom CTO Fred Briggs told InfoWorld recently. “And sure, we will still have some telecom components. But with our ‘Generation D’ announcement, we have signaled that we are going to change.”

After studying the market’s potential, Dr. Harold Davidson, a former economics professor from Los Angeles and property owner of 324 apartment units in Clinton, made his first purchase in the area in 1980.

“I’m very happy with the three properties we have in the Clinton community,” Davidson said. “We’re anticipating even more growth and development of the area, and we support the growth that’s taking place. We’re very enthusiastic about WorldCom and its efforts within the community, and its significant to the community as well as other growth elements taking place.”

Growth in Clinton will only be limited by the workforce, said Anderson.

“In fact, it already has been limited, since we can’t supply this company with the kind of high-tech people they need here in Mississippi,” she said. “Our workforce has not kept pace with this rapidly changing industry.”

With the build-it-and-they-will-come mindset, the area’s growth continues. Accelerated plans to develop a frontage road on I-20 have been spurred by speculation that the Jackson Bandits, owned by Ebbers and J.L. Holloway, would make a new home in a Sportsplex located on property adjacent to WorldCom headquarters in Clinton.

“We’re on the short list for the Sportsplex,” said Greer. “I’ll step out on a limb and say that I fully expect that, after all is said and done, they’ll bail on Jackson and come to Clinton. We have all the ingredients they’re looking for. The best deal will be here, not at the fairgrounds in Jackson.”

A sticking point — the city’s beer ordinance —would need to be addressed by the city council, with many folks believing there will be heavy pressure to waive the ordinance.

All of Clinton’s growth, and its influx of new residents, isn’t solely attributed to WorldCom’s presence, Greer said.

“But WorldCom has a heavy hand in all of the attraction to Clinton,” Greer said. “Even though we’re getting a lot of people relocating here that aren’t working at WorldCom, WorldCom is the influence that’s bringing so many people to Clinton.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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