Mississippi Gulf Coast economic and business development has fared well in the last decade. Over $3.5 billion in new development, over 25,000 new jobs, lower tax rates, and new public facilities, all while preserving a quality of life that is attractive and appealing.
While most look to the glitter of gaming as the engine driving this growth, it is important to note that the Mississippi Gulf Coast economy continues to grow in multiple sectors: manufacturing/distribution, military/federal installations, retail trade, transportation and gaming/tourism. This strong economic mix, our favorable business climate, tax structure and quality of life led the Gulf Coast to be listed in Forbes magazine’s “Top 100 Places To Do Business” and Money magazine’s “Best Places To Live” surveys in 2000.
The most recent demonstration of the attractive features of the Mississippi Gulf Coast — outside the gaming arena — is the location of Cingular Wireless to Ocean Springs. Cingular, the nation’s second largest wireless carrier, will make a capital investment of $25 million in a customer care center that will initially employ 700 people, at an average wage of $12.00 an hour, beginning in July 2001.
Cingular joins a list of over 12,000 businesses that call the Gulf Coast home. The Coast’s population has increased by nearly 51,000 people, many of whom were attracted by the quality jobs offered by employers like Hilton, Dupont, Oreck, MGM Grand, Wellman and Lockheed Martin. The Coast population grew over 17% from 1990 to 2000, making it the fastest growing region in the state. The Gulf Coast labor force has continued to grow at a rate of 4% annually, and today has over 180,000 qualified workers in the Metropolitan Statistical Area — 50% of those in Harrison County.
Over the last five years, over $200 million in new industrial investment has been made in Harrison County alone, through locations and expansions by new and existing industries. Over 34% of this growth occurred in 2000. The most notable manufacturing expansions in 2000 were the $25-million expansion at Dupont’s titanium dioxide plant and the $4.3-million expansion at Oreck Manufacturing. In the last two years, manufacturing expansions created almost 1,000 new jobs in Harrison County.
On the commercial development side, over $1 billion in commercial construction was permitted since 1995. The permits represented a wide range of developments from hotels, casino resorts, retail shopping centers, hospitals, office space, schools, recreation complexes and distribution facilities.
In light of a strong economy, the Coast continues to see significant residential growth. Over $750 million in new residential construction has been permitted since 1995, with the majority of the development north of Interstate 10. The 4,600-acre Tradition master-planned community, is now in development in North Central Harrison County, the largest planned development in the state.
A thriving tourism industry continues to drive retail and leisure-related development. With an estimated 22 million visitors, retail sales totaled nearly $4.9 billion in 2000 as over 20 national retailers entered the market. Two new signature golf courses opened in 2000 to add to the production of the estimated 798,000 rounds annually. With new visitors, gaming revenues continue to grow, topping the $1-billion mark in 2000. A key to this growth is increased air service at the Gulfport/Biloxi Regional Airport. In 2000, the Regional Airport experienced an over 15% increase to almost one million passengers with 50 flights daily. Our State Port at Gulfport anticipates adding to the tourism product by attracting a cruise ship by 2002 that will deliver over 2500 passengers per visit. The State Port continues to expand its horizons with the implementation of a $100-million expansion.
The Coast has the second largest population in Mississippi with the second largest concentration of businesses. We are gaining national attention as we grow toward becoming a destination resort with a very diversified business base. Providing adequate transportation infrastructure for our residents and business community to enjoy this prosperity is a high priority for Coast leaders. With traffic expected to increase by 25%, new north-south thoroughfare development from Interstate 10 to Highway 90 and east-west corridor development is critical. Additional roadway capacity is needed to include 33 miles of new roads in Harrison County, and the widening of 55 miles of existing roads, with an estimated cost for these improvements of approximately $750 million.
Gulf Coast leaders will continue to look to our elected officials to help make this plan a reality, so the Gulf Coast’s contribution to Mississippi’s economy can be stronger than ever in the future.
Michael J. Olivier, CED, is executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission. Members of the Mississippi Economic Development Council provide a weekly column to the Mississippi Business Journal. MEDC, which was established in 1963, is comprised of nearly 600 economic development professionals and business leaders who are interested in making their Mississippi communities better places in which to live and work.