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Bright spots: the prison, downtown development, Nissan suppliers, four lanes

Gateway to Delta holding its own

YAZOO CITY — Construction recently began on a third phase of the federal correctional facility, providing a welcome boost at a time when economic development is in a holding pattern in Yazoo City.

“We already have a camp that holds 125 inmates, and a minimum security prison that holds about 1,900, and this new one, which will be medium security, will have a capacity of 1,152 prisoners,” said Elliott Caggins, executive assistant of the Federal Correctional Institution in Yazoo City. “We have 300 staff on board now, and we’ll add 350 to 400 employees at the medium security. So far, only about 30% of the staff is from the Yazoo City area.”

The $90-million contract, awarded to Haskell Construction, was subcontracted to W.G. Yates & Sons in Philadelphia. The project should be complete by April 2003.

The prison has given the city another economic boost: tourism.

“We average about 150 visitors to see inmates per week, and a little over half of those are from far enough away to need to spend the night,” said Caggins.

Yazoo City Mayor Wardell Leach said, “Prison visitation is helping a lot, bringing in out-of-town dollars. A new hotel going up will help accommodate more visitors.”

Even though business leaders have talked to several Nissan suppliers, there are no commitments yet. With an eye toward expansion, the Yazoo County Port Commission recently added about 140 acres to its industrial park, located near the port.

“In a normal year, the port ships about 250,000 tons, but we were down a little last year because of the drought,” said Jerry Fraiser, port director. “Mississippi Chemical is by far the largest user of the port, shipping fertilizer down the river. Incoming commodities include lime for chemical companies and MDOT and materials for the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers.”

Fraiser, who is also executive director of the local economic development organization, said the recent closure of Yazoo Uniforms, a clothing manufacturer that makes surgical gowns, “was not good news, but it wasn’t a surprise.”

“That seems to be the future for garment plants. They’re going to Mexico. There are hardly any garment plants anywhere in the U.S.,” he said.

After coming to a standstill for months, construction on the four-lane project that will link Yazoo City to Silver City is underway, which will eventually provide four lanes from Indianola to the Gulf Coast.

“That means everybody in the Delta will be on a four-lane road to Jackson, which is a huge milestone,” said Griffin Norquist, president of the Bank of Yazoo City.

But the overall agricultural outlook in Yazoo City, like the rest of the state and nation, remains dismal, Norquist said. “The farm economy’s worse than it’s ever been,” he said. “We’re probably looking again at close to half a farmer’s income coming from government payments, either directly or indirectly. The price of all commodities is horrible. When you don’t have as much need for pesticides, fertilizers and such, it’s a huge downward spiral. People sometimes forget that Mississippi is still a core agricultural state.”

Despite overall sluggish market conditions for agriculture, catfish farming and processing continues to flourish. Simmons Farm Raised Catfish in Yazoo City is in the middle of a $1.3-million, 3,000-square-foot expansion.

“We’re adding space and equipment to make processing more efficient,” said Harry Simmons, president of Simmons Farms, and a Yazoo County native. “We have 220 employees and will add 35 more. Already, we’re doing about $20 million a year in sales. The city and chamber of commerce have been very helpful over the years in helping us prosper.”

Even though Yazoo City residents have commuted daily to Jackson for years, some are now bringing businesses back home, Norquist said.

“More and more, we’re seeing a commuting lifestyle that Mississippians never saw before,” he said.

Glo Baker of Prudential Good Earth Realty said historic homes in downtown Yazoo City are drawing a lot of interest.

“Most of our inquiries on historic properties come from Madison and Jackson,” she said.

Kathy Boutwell, president of the Mississippi Association Managers Inc., a management company for professional and trade nonprofit associations, recently moved her home and office to Yazoo City. She said Yazoo City’s location — 34 miles from Jackson and 24 miles from Canton — would probably be Jackson’s next bedroom community.

“It feels like we have moved across town,” she said. “The move is economically advantageous to my business and my clients. Being a native of Yazoo City I have brought my business home. Also, I’ve relocated my residence to a historical 1910 home in the historic district of Yazoo. I can accomplish in Yazoo City everything that I can accomplish in Jackson.”

Hayes Dent, president of the Yazoo Downtowners Association, and a real estate developer, said, “Yazoo City has one of the best preserved main streets in the state.”

“In a day and time when cheap metal buildings and strip centers with parking lagoons have been built, it’s taken away the fabric of many communities,” he said. “Then when you look at very new developments that are trying to capture the essence of Main Street, we’ve already got it in spades. We ought to be capitalizing on it.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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