AROUND THE REGION — Scattered layoffs and rumors of layoffs have caused concern in North Mississippi, but largely the region continues to thrive and has seen expansions of existing industry combined with some significant new power generation projects.
“The most positive thing in our area right now is the continued growth of the existing companies that call Tupelo and Lee County home,” said David P. Rumbarger, president and CEO, Community Development Foundation (CDF), Tupelo. “Companies which have expanded over this past year include Allsteel-Hon, Delta International, FMC, H. M. Richards, Omega, Super Sagless and, the largest, Tecumseh with 600 hundred new jobs.”
Rumbarger said existing manufacturers have set a bold pace and activity in the new industry arena has been brisk with lots of information being passed along and decisions imminent. While there have been a few downsizings, recently things have stabilized and, in the case of Action Industries, some workers have been rehired.
Lee County and Tupelo continue to improve the quality of life by adding a new city hall and the comprehensive fairgrounds project that includes the Frank Spain car museum. Rumbarger said the most exciting project now in planning is the CDF’s new Future Focus, a five-year economic development plan.
Charleigh Ford, executive director, Columbus-Lowndes County Economic Development Association, said Cogentrix has received permits from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and plans to begin construction in April on a $425- million power plant in the Lone Oak community near Caledonia. From 250 to 300 construction workers will be employed for the two years it takes to construct the facility that will have 25 permanent employees.
“One of the very good things about this is that it would have a very favorable impact on our tax rolls,” Ford said. “Following in its footsteps is another power generation project, Calpine Eastern, which is the same size generator as far as investment and power output. This facility is planned within close proximity to the Cogentrix plant. So we would be in the $900-million range up there in the same area where a $150-million peaking generator has already been built and is in operation. That would give us well over a billion dollars of investment in power plants. And we are continuing with other prospects, of course, for the industrial park and vacant buildings.”
On the negative side of the equation, the Columbus area has had three plant closings in the past six months, Maxxim Medical, Johnson Electric and Vanity Fair Workwear. Development officials are working with Maxxim Medical, which has about 900 workers, in hopes of keeping the plant open.
The silver lining in the picture is that the workers being laid off represent a skilled work force that could be very attractive to industries considering locating in the area.
“These are good, hardworking people who would make excellent employees,” Ford said. “That would hopefully be an attraction to new industries.”
Starkville is seeing major transportation improvements that bode well for economic development.
“The construction of the 24-mile bypass system around Starkville is creating a tremendous amount of development on properties in proximity to the four-lane highway, particularly around the Highway 25 Bypass on the west side of Starkville,” said John I. Rucker, executive director, Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority (OCEDA), Starkville “That is the area where OCEDA is developing a new industrial park and eCommerce Park.”
While local industries no doubt are feeling the economic crunch, Starkville hasn’t witnessed any major cutbacks. Rucker said it helps that the area has a very diverse manufacturing community, and thus does not rely too much on any one large employer.
“Of course, Mississippi State University continues to grow and we grow right along with our flagship,” Rucker said.
Recent census data show the area has grown significantly in the past decade. For example, the City of Starkville saw an 18.2% population increase, and Oktibbeha County, an 11.7% increase.
“Outside of DeSoto County, I believe Starkville boasts the largest percentage increase per capita of any other North Mississippi community,” Rucker said.
Clay County stable, Tishomingo feels the pinch
In Clay County local industry has fared well. Although there have been rumors of layoffs, thus far the county’s job base has remained stable. Louise Campbell, executive director, Clay County Economic Development Corporation, West Point, said there have been two large power generating projects announced which are in the permitting stages. She said the projects would provide significant employment during construction and add significantly to the local tax base.
In the far northeast corner of the state, Tishomingo County saw about 60 jobs lost when the Wild Rose Furniture plant closed and a fiberglass business that employed 30 closed. Prospects for new industry have declined.
“Things have slowed down considerably,” said Alvia J. Blakney, director, Tishomingo County Development Foundation, Iuka. “We’re feeling the pinch of the economy. We had a quite a bit going on before Christmas as far as interest and active prospects and clients, but activity has slowed down considerably since then. People are being more cautious about expanding into new locations.”
But there are some current expansions of existing industry. For example, Montech of Mississippi, a steel fabrication industry, is expanding and plans to add about 80 new employees.
In Holly Springs, the slowdown in the national economy has had little impact, says Charles McKellar, executive director of the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority and the Chickasaw Trail Economic Development Authority.
“We have had very few layoffs, and those we have had are generally temporary,” McKellar said. “In many cases we have been able to convince companies considering layoffs to consider consolidating manufacturing operations from other facilities to their Marshall County plant because of high productivity and lower costs here.”
McKellar said major transportation infrastructure such as the completion of the Goodman Road and Highway 72 four-lane corridors plus the development of the Highway 304/I-69 corridor will offer tremendous potential for development in Marshall County. Other positives include development of the 6,000-acre Chickasaw Trail Economic Development Park in Fayette County, Tenn., and Marshall County plus the newly announced 1,000-acre industrial park at the Holly Springs/Marshall County Airport on Highway 78.
Major rail infrastructure projects include working with Norfolk Southern and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroads to develop a portion of the Memphis Rail ByPass that would connect the two railroads and provide rail service to Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park.
McKellar said another important development is the repeal of the Public Warehouse Tax that has prevented the development of major warehouse and distribution projects in Mississippi. “This will allow major Memphis developers to begin projects in Mississippi,” he said.
Corinth sees technology growth
In Corinth, growth continues in technology-related areas, says Charles Gulotta, president of The Alliance.
“Things are very positive now in Alcorn County,” Gulotta said. “We are working on a number outstanding job-creation projects with technology-related companies. Recently we sold some land in the industrial park to Master Piece Engineering, a software company. A company called Innovative Circuits, which makes circuit boards for computers, just graduated from our business incubator.”
Land was recently sold for a new Federal Express terminal, and r
ation of a 250,000-square-foot building for Timber Products is comple