HATTIESBURG — The Area Development Partnership (ADP) recently launched its new five-year plan with big plans and big support, as evidenced by the money raised so far by local ADP volunteers.
Still in the beginning stages of fund-raising, the Hattiesburg-area economic development group had already raised 70%, or $1.24 million, of the $1.75 million needed to fund its five-year economic and community development plan.
“We could very well go over our goal,” said Brad Brian, who serves as campaign general co-chair with Lawrence Warren of Warren Paving.
Brian said he believes the campaign, “Partnership for Tomorrow,” has had a strong kickoff because people are seeing the ADP’s impact on the community. “I think people are seeing the results of the ADP working in education, workforce development, transportation — all of those areas have seen a great deal of improvement. They are turning to the ADP to assist them and it’s not a deaf ear.”
Carl Nicholson of the accounting firm Nicholson and Co. said his business has doubled since 1992 when the ADP was created and he believes the overall economic growth of the area is a direct result of the economic development group.
“They’ve brought in industry that has created jobs and that has caused the retail market to expand,” he said. “We’ve all benefited.”
The new “Partnership for Tomorrow” is divided into six areas:
• economic development, which is budgeted $900,000 over five years;
• workforce development, which is budgeted $450,000 over five years;
• image enhancement, $250,000;
• education, $50,000;
• strategic alliances, $50,000; and
• transportation, $50,000.
The plan’s goal is to create 3,000 new jobs over the next five years through business investment. The ADP will target jobs in polymer science, professional services, telecommunications and computer technology.
Under the economic development category, the ADP is working with the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to build a research and technology park similar to the one at Mississippi State University but with a focus on polymer science. The group has called on outside expertise to help them develop a plan and is looking at USM property north of Hattiesburg, said ADP president Gray Swoope. USM’s polymer science program is a strong building block which could help attract coatings companies and others which could benefit from the polymer research, he said.
The plan also calls for a new Class A industrial park and spec building. With strong restrictive covenants, the ADP hopes to attract Fortune 500 companies to the upscale park, Swoope said.
To further economic development in the Pine Belt, the ADP also plans to market the greater Hattiesburg area nationally as a premier retirement community, support tourism and expand the Lake Terrace Convention Center and Lake Terrace Welcome Center.
In workforce development, the plan will create a Workforce Training Consortium to improve area training programs and create a referral network to identify new job applicants for local business. The plan also includes creating a Commuters Network to recruit outlying labor resources and a survey of business and industry to determine the required skill base.
Rounding out the top three in spending is image enhancement. The new plan calls for the creation of a “Movers and Shakers Tour” to develop stronger relationships with state and regional corporate leaders; the construction of new entranceways into the area; and support of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association to revitalize the central business district.
All six of the plan’s categories play a role in attracting new business and achieving the goal of over 3,000 new jobs, said Brian. “When a prospective company looks at your community, the first things they want to see are education, how colleges are training workers, how the counties work together, the quality of transportation and the standard of living,” he said.
“Partnership for Tomorrow” picks up where “Leading EDGE,” the last five-year plan, leaves off. Since Leading EDGE began in 1995, the ADP has attracted one major new business or industry to the area each year: 1995 — Sunbeam Household Products; 1996 — Kohler Co.; 1997 — Western Container; 1998 — Dickten & Masch Manufacturing Inc.; 1999 — Owens-Illinois Inc.; and 2000 — Convergys Corp.
Since 1995, employment in Forrest and Lamar counties has had a net increase of 2,910 jobs. According to Swoope, 1,712 of those jobs were created by companies which the ADP attracted to the area. That 1,712 does not include Convergys, which will employ an additional 700 people.
“The Leading EDGE campaign contributed to 59% of the job growth,” said Swoope, adding that several cut-and-sew operations closed their doors during this period. “Even with those closings, we still had an increase.”
The ADP now has over 2,000 members in five counties. Two-thirds of the ADP’s budget comes from private sector funding.
Brian said he had no idea how much support the ADP received from the business community when he moved here several years ago from Baton Rouge to serve as vice president of the Mississippi division of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United.
“There are a lot of doers, and they’re proud of their community,” said Brian. “It’s been amazing to me.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Kelly Russell at email@example.com or (601) 364-1027.