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Hattiesburg has grown into more than just a college town

MEDC: Memo

Once a small town known only for its university, the Hattiesburg MSA (Lamar & Forrest counties) has grown to a dynamic, thriving community where more and more people are choosing to work, raise a family and/or retire.

People realize that the Hattiesburg area is a great place to call home because it is not just a city. It is a region made up of Lamar and Forrest counties and outlying communities such as Petal, Purvis, Lumberton and Sumrall.

In 1991, the private business leadership in the area decided to commit time and resources to building the local economy. A new organization was formed, the Area Development Partnership, that focused on the region, not a single county or city boundary. Through this leadership and the strategic partnering with governmental entities, the region has experienced extraordinary growth.

Over the last 10 years the Greater Hattiesburg Area has experienced phenomenal growth. Recent figures show the population of the Hattiesburg MSA has grown from 98,738 in 1990 to 111,674 in 2000. This growth reflects 13.1% population increase, which exceeds the state’s growth rate 10.6%. Within the MSA, Forrest County’s population increased 6.3% while Lamar County’s increased 28.4%. The number of households in the MSA also grew 18.8%, from 36,033 in 1990 to 42,825 in the year 2000.

Business is booming in the Greater Hattiesburg area. People are making more money and spending more money. The average household income is up 55% from 10 years ago. The average household is earning $41,986 this year compared to $27,094 in 1990.

Unemployment rates for the MSA remained under 5% for 2000 and dropped to a low 2.5% in December 2000. Retail sales figures are also up from 10 years ago. Statistics show that gross retail sales in the Hattiesburg MSA increased from $1.6 billion in 1999 to $1.7 billion in 2000. Construction remained steady in 2000, with over 2,300 permits being issued in the MSA. Already, more than 300 permits have been granted this year.

Tourism is booming in the Greater Hattiesburg area. The Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center closed out its fiscal year in September or 2000. The center hosted 774 event days with an attendance of 118,866. This resulted in 11,357 area hotel rooms being booked. Total new dollars the center brought into the area: $9,910,600. Passengers boarding at the Hattiesburg/Laurel Regional Airport increased from 12,424 in 1999 to 13,537 in 2000, an increase of nearly 9%.

The Area Development Partnership’s Retiree Recruitment Program has attracted nearly 700 retirement households to the Greater Hattiesburg area, making it the leader in the state. The program is well on its way to reaching it goal of 850 by the year 2003.

Since 1995, this has been a major announcement of new jobs and investments each year.

• 1995 Sunbeam – 900 jobs

• 1996 Kohler Engines – 300 jobs

• 1997 Western Container – 100 jobs

• 1998 Dickten & Masch – 90 jobs

• 1999 Owens-Illinois – 50 jobs

• 2000 Convergys – 300 jobs

New jobs, increased investment and improved purchasing power are fueling retail and service sector expansion. The diversity in our local market allows us to maintain a healthy economy.

Numerous sectors, including industrial, medical, educational, retail and military, are pumping millions of dollars into our economy. Businesses, industries and retirees realize the Greater Hattiesburg area offers a variety of advantages and resources.

The same business leaders that started the ADP in 1990 have always had communications with neighboring counties, such as Jeff-Davis, Jones, Perry, Covington, Marion and Wayne. Now this same business leadership has started talking to fellow business leaders in the Gulf Coast counties as well as the ones in between. By working together to address issues in South Mississippi this region will continue to grow and prosper.

The Mississippi Economic Development Council (MEDC) is a state organization with approximately 600 members representing professionals and practitioners in economic development, chamber of commerce, and community development. This statewide network of professionals work together to improve the economic well-being of Mississippi. Because of the nature of their jobs MEDC members can provide specific insight on different regions throughout the state.

Gray Swoope serves as vice president-economic development for the Mississippi Economic Development Council. He is president of the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg. The Mississippi Business Journal will feature columns from MEDC members from around the state in future issues.

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