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South/Southwest focusing on regional approach

Forecast 2001: South Mississippi

Instead of turf battles and “every man for himself,” the rallying cry in South and Southwest Mississippi economic development circles these days is “regional cooperation.”

The Advantage Mississippi Initiative, the governor’s economic development program adopted in a recent special session of the Legislature, has language that encourages regions of the state to work together to address economic development goals. And it gives regions the authority to undertake joint bonding and financing projects.

“In the year ahead I think we will continue to build on regional business coalitions,” said Gray Swoope, president of the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg. “Regions need to work together to address the issues that affect the entire area. We have taken the first steps towards doing more of that down the road. A coalition of business leaders from 10 counties has met several times to discuss what is important for this region, and for the entire state, to keep the economy strong.”

The Southwest Mississippi Partnership, made up of economic development officials from 10 counties, also is working to promote the region as a whole. Recent economic developers from McComb, Port Gibson, Brookhaven and Natchez traveled together to met with site locations consultants in South Carolina and Georgia.

“The consultants we met with complimented us for taking a regional approach and told us how important it was from their company’s perspective,” said J. Britt Herrin, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development District. “I think it is critical for us to do it. They want regional cooperation, and people who will look at things from a regional level. They want us to do more things about putting data together on a regional level as opposed to a county and city level only.”

Factors that make the region attractive include good labor force availability, and a high quality work force willing to work for decent wages. Mississippi river ports and good highway and rail transportation systems also offer advantages along with training programs available from community colleges in the area.

New businesses and expansions

Southwest Mississippi has seen a number of new businesses or business expansions in the past year, including a new $600-million electric power generating facility proposed by LS Power-Pike Energy, LLC near McComb. Brookhaven Specialty Minerals has opened a precipitated calcium carbonate plant, Rutter-rex is a new military uniform factory in Tylertown, and Stewart Orchids is relocating from California to Natchez.

Officials in the region are keeping a close watch on the development of the Nissan factory in Madison County, and are hoping that some spin-off businesses will consider locating in the southern part of the state.

In Jones County, the groundwork for future success has been laid with plans for the Howard Technology Park.

“In light of the pending development of Howard Technology Park and the Jones County Junior College’s Advanced Technology Center, Jones County’s new year looks bright,” said Mitch Stennett, president of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County. “For the next 12 months, we will not only be working toward several expansions of existing businesses, but also on the infrastructure construction at the technology park. The year 2001 ushers in a spirit of technological advances that will combine with Jones County’s long-standing entrepreneurial successes to provide a solid base for continued economic growth and development.”

Research and technology park

The ADP has plans to do something similar with a different twist, and is planning a feasibility study and marketing analysis for development of a research and technology park associated with the University of Southern Mississippi.

“Right now we are in the process of hiring a firm to do the study, and believe in the first few months of the year we will have a plan in hand,” Swoope said. “It will be different from the Howard Technology Park because of the focus on research. The other thing that you’ll see with the new year is that our leaders will continue to finalize and construct the Pearl River Community College’s Advanced Technology Center planned for the Hattiesburg Industrial Park.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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